Health

More than 1,000 Kentuckians have now died from COVID-19.

Gov. Andy Beshear announced 16 new deaths at Wednesday’s press briefing, pushing Kentucky past the sobering milestone. Beshear said the pandemic’s death toll is now comparable to the state’s number of casualties in the Vietnam and Korean wars.

“Losing 1,000 people to something that didn’t previously exist in a six-month period, that’s hard,” he said. “And it’s something most of us have never experienced before.”

A wreath-hanging ceremony will be conducted by the Kentucky State Police Honor Guard in the Capitol rotunda at 10 a.m. Thursday to honor those who have died and their families. All flags at state buildings will fly at half-staff for the next week.

Beshear said that he does not believe the death toll means the state isn’t effectively combating the virus, noting that he believes the figure would be much higher without public health interventions. Still, he said it “feels pretty devastating.”

“That doesn’t mean that, given the opponent that we’re facing, that we have not done a good job,” he said. “It just means that we have to recognize how much this hurts those around us.”

The state reported 667 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday and is expected to surpass 54,000 total cases on Thursday.

Beshear took time during the question and answer portion of Wednesday’s briefing to reflect on his tenure as governor and the legacy he’ll leave behind. As case numbers and deaths in the commonwealth continue to rise, he said leading Kentucky through the coronavirus pandemic will likely be the most important thing he does in his career.

“If I’m defined by this, I can deal with that,” Beshear said. “If this is my calling to make sure that we can get through this and to protect folks, sometimes when they don’t even want to do the things to protect themselves and others, I can handle that. But I anticipate that this governorship will be a lot more than that.”

Beshear said it has been a difficult year, and acknowledged that he will likely look back and analyze the decisions he’s made so far for the rest of his life. But he is hopeful that the state will bounce back from the pandemic.

To assist in doing so, Beshear called on citizens to come together and put energy into working with one another to create a better future for the commonwealth. He laid out his hopes for the remainder of his governorship once the pandemic comes to an end.

“I intend to create better jobs, better paying jobs, better educational opportunities for all of our people,” he said. “To move us forward in substantial ways, to provide more affordable health care to everybody, to do everything I can to make sure no one goes hungry, whether it’s during a pandemic or afterwards; To build the type of world that I think my two kids deserve, and other people’s kids do, too.”

Instead of the normal 4 p.m. daily briefing, Beshear will deliver a 15-minute address at 5:30 on Thursday evening.

John Boyle covers southern Indiana communities and health for WFPL News. He is a Report for America Corps member.