Beshear: Kentucky should be ‘smartest’ in reopening economy

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In this Tuesday, March 9, 2020 photo, Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear speaks at a press conference on the coronavirus and Kentucky’s steps to combat the outbreak at the capitol in Frankfort, Ky. Kentucky has reported its first death linked to coronavirus. Beshear said Monday, March 16 that the 66-year-old Bourbon County man who died had other health conditions. (Michael Clevenger/Courier Journal via AP)

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky should resist the temptation of being the fastest to reopen its coronavirus-battered economy, instead focusing on being “the smartest and the best” to prevent any follow-up spikes in infections, Gov. Andy Beshear said Tuesday.

The governor offered those cautionary words as he reported 17 more virus-related deaths in Kentucky, raising the statewide death count to 171 since the pandemic began. Total virus cases approached 3,200 statewide as the governor announced nearly 180 new cases.

Beshear and other governors are at the center of a turbulent national debate about how quickly to reopen businesses and ease guidelines meant to control the virus. Last week, protesters calling for businesses to reopen could be heard as Beshear gave his daily briefing at the statehouse.

President Donald Trump recently detailed a set of guidelines for easing restrictions in places that have robust testing and are seeing a decrease in COVID-19 cases.

Beshear released his own set of guidelines for Kentucky last week, some aligning with Trump’s proposals. Beshear is calling for increased testing, greater availability of protective equipment and plans to protect vulnerable populations as thresholds to begin lifting restrictions.

On Tuesday, the Democratic governor urged Kentucky residents to be “strong and resilient” in following guidelines meant to curb the virus’s spread. Easing restrictions too soon would risk secondary spikes in cases, inflicting another round of damage on the economy, Beshear said.

“We’ve got to know that our commitment has to be, yes, to be ready and to plan,” he said. “But to make sure that we do this not the fastest but the smartest and the best to protect our people and to make sure that ultimately, when we look at the long-term reopening of the economy, that we end up doing it in a shorter duration by not making some foolish or some very risky decisions.”

Elsewhere, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp plans to have many of his state’s businesses up and running again as soon as Friday. Fellow Republican Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee announced that most businesses will begin resuming operations as soon as next week.

Some other Republican leaders were taking smaller steps, like reopening their beaches. In the virus hot spot of Louisiana, Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards also was taking a more cautious approach, announcing he’ll first allow some non-emergency medical procedures to resume next week.

Meanwhile, the University of Kentucky announced plans Tuesday to lay off and furlough some employees in response to a projected $70 million budget shortfall in the coming year caused by the coronavirus. The cutbacks at the state’s flagship university in Lexington also include reducing retirement contributions to employees and not providing merit pay raises.

Most of the university’s revenues are expected to decline, many significantly, UK President Eli Capilouto said in an email. UK is bracing for declining revenue from enrollment and short-term investments. Capilouto called it the most daunting challenges faced by UK in decades.

“Many of these decisions will cause pain. They will require shared sacrifice,” Capilouto said in the campus message. “But they are necessary, if we are to meet our financial obligations, honor our principles of education, research, service and health care and lay a foundation for the future.”

Furloughs will apply to employees in units where work has ceased or been reduced significantly, the university said. Some staff members will be laid off. The university didn’t say how many employees would be furloughed or laid off.

The University of Louisville also announced more cost-cutting steps Tuesday, including pausing its retirement contributions for employees, due to economic damage from the coronavirus outbreak, media outlets reported.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in weeks. For some, it can cause life-threatening illness.

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