FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky broke its record for COVID cases last week, Governor Andy Beshear said Tuesday. The Bluegrass state recorded 30,680 cases from Aug. 30 to Sept. 5, and 13,005 new cases of COVID-19 coronavirus cases over the past four days alone.
The state’s test positivity rate increased slightly from 13.17% on Friday to 13.74%.
“We continue to see more cases than is safe by any means,” Beshear said. “The bad news is we had the worst week ever last week. Our hospitals continue to be pushed to the brink. If we have one bad week, we can very quickly run out of ICU beds.”
Roughly 88% of intensive care unit beds are full, with 188 beds left, according to a state report. Some 433 Kentuckians are on a ventilator.
“Even after what we’re going through, I don’t think that we will be anywhere close to the devastation that we have seen in so many other states,” Beshear said. Still, he cautioned that every time Kentucky had experienced a surge of cases, the statewide mask mandate was an added measure that slowed the spread of the virus.
“We’ve been able to require it, not just in schools but indoors, when you’re outside of the home. Without that, we are not going to do as well this time,” he added. “Now, I know that that’s going to be a big debate and ultimately that’s going to be decided by the legislature.”
As governor, Beshear unilaterally set virus-related restrictions in Kentucky for more than a year, but a recent state Supreme Court ruling has cleared the way for new laws that limit his emergency powers and pass responsibility to the state legislature.
On Saturday, Beshear called lawmakers back for a special session to address issues brought on by the surge, particularly those in schools.
Republican lawmakers got their chance to guide Kentucky’s pandemic policies Tuesday, the first day of the special session.
A Senate committee advanced a measure that would void the state school board’s requirement that anyone in a public K-12 school wear a mask, leaving it up to school districts to decide to mandate masks. Another bill that would prevent the governor from issuing any new statewide orders requiring mask wearing advanced out of a House panel.
Staffing shortages and large quarantines have closed a few dozen school districts since the school year began.
Hudspeth Blackburn is a corps member for The Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.