FRANKFORT — Kentucky's governor on Monday ordered that bars close and restaurants scale back indoor service and urged school districts to wait until later in August to resume in-person classes in a new round of actions to combat a spike in coronavirus cases.
Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear stressed that his decisions follow recommendations from federal health officials to try to reverse the recent trend of escalating COVID-19 cases.
Beshear ordered that bars close for two weeks, starting Tuesday. Restaurants will have to limit indoor capacity to 25%, though outdoor seating can be unlimited if social distancing guidelines are followed, Beshear said.
The clampdown comes weeks after Kentucky's bars reopened and restaurants were allowed to increase indoor capacity to 50%. But the Bluegrass State has been hit by record or near-record numbers of daily COVID-19 cases for more than a week.
In defending his actions, the governor said: "It's our state. It's the lives of our people. And it's our economy on the line. I believe that we are going to do the right thing."
Beshear also recommended that public and private schools wait until at least the third week of August to resume in-person classes to help curb the virus's spread. The governor said he's concerned the virus would spread to schools if in-person classes resume amid the escalation.
"And if we see a lot of early cases in schools, it will be harder to get all of our schools open for in-person classes," he said.
State education officials said Monday they're still collecting updated school calendars from districts, but it appears that fewer than a dozen were planning to open in-person classes before Aug. 17.
Beshear had spent the past few days bracing Kentuckians for a resumption of some restrictions to combat the elevated number of statewide virus cases. The actions are aimed at sparing Kentucky from the dramatic increases in virus cases and deaths that hit some other states, he said.
"I don't want to be a state that has to order one of these freezer trucks because our morgues run out of space," he said. "I don't want to be a state that runs out of ICU beds and one of your loved ones doesn't have space. I don't want to be a state where a doctor has to look at 10 young people knowing they have three ventilators and make a decision in possibly who lives and who dies."
Beshear recently required that most people wear masks in public to try to blunt the virus surge. Kentuckians should be prepared for the mask mandate to be extended, the governor said Monday.
He also recently reduced the number of people allowed at social gatherings from 50 to 10. The rule doesn't apply to businesses or wedding venues.
"We've really got to control house parties," Beshear said Monday. "It's an area that we absolutely see spread and where people let their guards down."
Meanwhile, the governor reported another 522 virus cases Monday, pushing the statewide total past 27,600 since the start of the pandemic. He reported nine more virus-related deaths in Kentucky, raising the death toll to 709.
The governor took aggressive steps in the spring to shut down much of the state's economy to curb the virus. Beshear eventually lifted or eased many of those restrictions to reopen commerce and other activities, but Monday's actions continued the partial reversals amid the surge in cases.
Beshear said he hopes to allow bars to reopen after the two-week shutdown, but said there will be new, stricter guidelines once they do. He said there are many responsible bar owners, adding, "I hate this requirement for them."
"They are certainly paying for actions of others and it's not fair but this virus isn't fair, either," the governor said.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some — especially older adults and people with existing health problems — it can cause more severe illness and be fatal.