Kentuckians have lived a lifetime in the 12 days since the state confirmed its first case of COVID-19.
Once a distant storm visible only in newspapers and social media feeds, the pandemic hit home on March 6. It has overtaken our daily lives, restricted our movements and forced us to re-imagine human interaction.
The coronavirus is now in all 50 states. Globally, there are around 180,000 confirmed cases and 7,426 deaths as of March 17— 425 of which happened in the previous 24 hours, according to the World Health Organization.
Kentucky has reported 26 confirmed cases of the virus and one death, but without widespread testing the numbers are little more than the narrow beam of a flashlight in a dark room. State officials warn that these numbers do not reflect an accurate picture of how far the virus has seeped into our communities. Or how far it will go.
And as we have watched the virus overwhelm other countries and cities, our city and state leaders have rolled out a series of increasingly severe orders to limit human contact and avoid a fate similar to Italy or Seattle.
The orders began on March 10, when Gov. Andy Beshear restricted visitors at nursing homes. They have since closed schools, upended healthcare and reshaped the economy. The May primary has been delayed and the Kentucky Derby has been postponed for the first time since World War II.
“Everyone can help with this. Look this is like a war right now, except we can’t see this enemy, the virus,” said Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer on Wednesday. “So everybody’s first question as a citizen is ‘what can I be doing right now to make sure this virus doesn’t spread?”
Here’s a broad look at how the Commonwealth has changed since the first confirmed infection from the coronavirus.
Effective as of 5 p.m. Wednesday, Beshear has ordered the closure of all “public-facing” businesses.
That’s “entertainment, hospitality and recreational facilities, community and recreation centers, gyms and exercise facilities, hair salons, nail salons, spas, concert venues, theaters, and sporting event facilities.”
It was just 24 hours earlier, when he ordered the closure of bars and restaurants to everything except takeout and delivery orders. Exemptions remain in place for retail, grocery, and hardware stores, pharmacies, banks, post offices, pet stores and hotels.
And although spring is just a day away, it will be many months before cities like Louisville enjoy the large public events celebrated annually. Music festivals, Waterfront Wednesday, Thunder Over Louisville and the Kentucky Derby have all been postponed.
Near Churchill Downs, at 4th and Central, manager Pamela Pryor has laid off staff to try to keep the doors open at Wagner’s Pharmacy, established in 1922.
“I’m going to be 56 years old, and I’ve never seen nothing like this,” Pryor said. “It is going to be a big difference for us because [Derby] brings in a lot of revenue into us to keep us going through the summer and [it] helps us in the wintertime.”
All 172 of Kentucky’s public school districts are closed for in-person classes for at least two weeks to prevent the spread of coronavirus. But education leaders warn the closures could go longer than originally planned. Childcare centers were ordered to close after Friday.
Many districts are using Non-Traditional Instruction (NTI) plan to keep students engaged in learning during the closure. Last week, teachers sent students home with paper packets of work or projects to complete at home, as well as online resources. But not all students have access to the Internet or a computer, and educators worry that not all students will have the same educational opportunities during the closure.
It’s not just learning that districts have to think about. More than 500,000 Kentucky students rely on the federal National School Lunch program for two hot meals a day because their families are struggling financially. With schools closed, many districts have shifted to offering drive-up or walk-up meals to students. These are grab-and-go bags filled with shelf-stable items and snacks, like applesauce, cheese, cereal, crackers, carrots and milk.
In Jefferson County, the district has 45 sites around the county where families can get these items on weekdays. JCPS Child Nutrition Services Director Julia Bauscher said the district can keep providing meals for the rest of the school year, if necessary.
“As long as schools are closed, we will be prepared to provide meals,” she said.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended limiting public interactions to fewer than 10 people and called on people to avoid bars and restaurants.
Washing hands for at least 20 seconds and maintaining a social distance of at least six feet have become patriotic duties.
State officials have asked residents to only seek health care in the event of a medical emergency. Information for when to seek care is available on the Kentucky COVID-19 website. If you live in Kentucky and believe you have been exposed to the virus, call the Kentucky COVID-19 hotline at 1-800-722-5725.
Hospitals are rationing their use of personal protective equipment to ensure supplies last.
Acute, psychiatric and senior care facilities have severely restricted access except in cases of medical necessity or in end of life circumstances. And Gov. Beshear has asked all senior and intermediate care facility residents to shelter in place.
“Those are populations that are especially vulnerable and we need to take those steps,” Beshear said Tuesday.
Louisville is about a week or two behind San Francisco and Seattle in terms of incidence of coronavirus, said Dr. Sarah Moyer, health department director.
“We have implemented the social distancing orders much sooner, and as we’ve seen modeled in other pandemics over the past century, we’re hoping that our actions taken sooner will prevent something like that,” she said.
All first responders: Employees’ temperatures will be taken, and their health assessed, before each shift. Anyone with a temperature of 100.4 degrees or higher, or with other COVID-19 symptoms, will be ordered to return home. A contractor will sanitize first responders’ vehicles, and Metro Government buildings will also be disinfected using a sanitizing process that lasts for seven days.
Police: Louisville Metro Police will not be responding to non-injury accidents or in person to calls about many non-violent offenses, such as public intoxication, loitering or loud music.
Fire: Crews will keep further distance during patient assessment and no longer conduct home safety checks (with the exception of 311 MetroCall requests), community involvement programs fire suppression company hazard surveys, routine building inspections (though buildings that pose eminent life hazards, such as an overcrowding situation or structural instability, will continue to be inspected, and codes will continue to be enforced).
EMS: Staff will call ahead to hospital facilities if transporting a suspected COVID-19 patient. Ambulances are being decontaminated multiple times each shift. In-person training and unnecessary gatherings are suspended. EMS employees are encouraged to stay home if a family member is sick.
Housing: Eviction court is suspended, orders already signed are no longer being enforced, and the Louisville Metro Housing Authority is not instituting or enforcing any evictions.
Utilities: Louisville Water, LG&E, KU and Old Dominion Power have all suspended disconnects and are also waiving any new late fees incurred between now and May 1.
Jail visitation: Visitation is suspended for three weeks and no visitors are allowed inside the building.
Incarceration: The Jefferson Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office and the public defender’s office are working together to identify inmates who can be released without compromising public safety.
“We are reviewing [the public defender’s] list on a case by case basis and, in what our office feels are the appropriate cases, are agreeing that the defendants be released,” said commonwealth’s attorney spokesperson Jeff Cooke. “Those agreed releases may involve home incarceration, telephone monitoring or release on their own recognizance.”
This article was written by Ryan Van Velzer with reporting from Jess Clark, Kyeland Jackson, Jacob Ryan, Kate Howard and Amina Elahi.
Correction: The Kentucky State Fair has not been postponed.