Small child-care centers in Kentucky will be allowed to reopen June 8, and larger ones with limited capacities June 15, removing much of a major obstacle to getting unemployed Kentuckians back to work in the COVID-19 pandemic.
Gov. Andy Beshear announced several other openings at his Thursday briefing, including a tentative date of June 29 for bars and gatherings of 50 or fewer. Gatherings of 10 or fewer will be allowed starting Friday.
Beshear announced 135 new cases of the coronavirus, tipping further down the two-week trendline that is a key federal metric for reopening state economies. "We may be more than just plateaued," he said. "We may be in true reduction."
Cabinet for Health and Family Services Secretary Eric Friedlander said the child-care move made Thursday "a day of really good news for many people. . . . Child care is one of the areas that we know is critical to opening the economy."
Beshear has allowed people who are receiving unemployment benefits to keep getting them and not return to their jobs if they cannot find child care. He acknowledged that the limits on larger facilities will limit their capacity, but said that until a coronavirus vaccine is developed "our world . . . has to be based on reduced contacts."
The child-care centers allowed to open June 8 are those in homes, serving 10 or fewer children, "more in a family style atmosphere," Friedlander said.
The larger providers opening June 15 will have limited capacity because they must have 10 or fewer children in a room, and those groups must stay together all day, along with staff members. The groups must have staggered play times, and the centers must do temperature and wellness checks on everyone, and have centralized pickup and drop-off points with social distancing.
Friedlander said family events will not be allowed "for now," and there will be no field trips. Adults at the centers will be required to wear masks, and children under 5 will not be required to do so. "It’s a judgment call, [based] on a child’s developmental ability," he said. The state's guidelines say centers "may recommend to the parents of children over 5 that their child wear a mask, and provide information about the benefits of masking."
The state has continued to pay child-care providers, almost $62 million in the last two months, based on previous payments, to keep them in business, Friedlander said: "We can't afford to lose them."
Friedlander also announced additional food benefits for children who will no longer get meals at school this summer, using $163 million in federal relief funds. He said $313.50 per month will go to families on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (once called food stamps), Temporary Assistance to Needy Families and Medicaid.
He urged people who qualify for the programs, but are not enrolled in them, to apply beginning June 23 at, benefind.ky.gov, or at, (855 306-8959. "Don’t feel like this is selfish, or something you shouldn’t do," he said, noting that the money will help grocers, farmers and "the rest of the food system."
Other openings: Beshear announced that auctions will be allowed starting June 1, and horse shows on June 8. On June 29, he plans to allow opening of bars, with social distancing, and gatherings of 50 or fewer people. But he said that isn't certain.
"It all depends on how good we do at being healthy at work," his catchphrase for the current phase of reopenings. He said he made the announcement because "We want to give those people dates to see and work toward. It relieves a lot of anxiety." He said his top priority is to "make healthy-at-work successful; my number-two goal is to get kids back in school this fall."
Health Commissioner Steven Stack, who said last week that he was worried that Kentuckians don't appreciate the danger posed by the virus, again alluded to the possibility that reopenings will be delayed or scaled back if cases start going up: "If we take our eye off the ball, we’re gonna find we have the problem in June and July that we have avoided."
Beshear said gatherings of up to 50 will facilitate weddings, which should still keep "groups of family units" together and practice social distancing. "The six feet’s gonna be really important," he said. "It's gonna require some creativity." He said the five weeks between now and then will allow Kentucky to learn best practices from other states.
Beshear said the 50-or-fewer rule could also provide "an opportunity to do something" with swimming pools. He said he hasn't allowed them to open because of the likelihood that social-distancing rules would be violated "outside the pool."
He said June 29 might also provide an opportunity to reopen indoor recreation facilities, which are "taking us a little longer" to figure out, due to capacity questions, differences among facilities, and the number of things that can be touched.
Asked about reopening gyms, he indicated that will take longer. "We can't go back right now to everything the way we used to do it," he said. Then he complimented retailers "for being really thoughtful" with their reopenings this week and said he thought restaurants would do likewise when they are allowed to open at one-third capacity plus outside seating on Friday.
And what about more personal activities, such as hug between friends this weekend? "We’re realistic," he said. "We know that people have missed each other . . . Limit your contact as much as you can."
In other COVID-19 news Thursday:
• The new-case number of 135, which brought the adjusted total to 8,286, was "one of the smallest in a while," Beshear said. He reported 122 new cases on Sunday, but Sundays and Mondays tend to be low due to limited lab activity on weekends; aside from that, Thursday's number was the lowest since the 105 reported on Monday, May 11.
• Counties with more than five new cases were Jefferson, 23; Kenton, 18; Warren, 15; Boone and Grayson, nine each; and Fayette and Logan, seven each.
• Beshear reported 10 more deaths, bringing the three-day total to 40 and the overall total to 386. Death numbers have gone up lately as new-case numbers have trended down; Stack said the average length of a fatal case of COVID-19, from onset of symptoms to death, is 13 days.
The new fatalities were two Warren County women, both 56; an Adair County woman, 73; a Grayson County man, 62; a Jackson County woman, 93; a Jefferson County woman, 69; a Jefferson County man, 78; an Oldham County man, 81; and Oldham County woman, 86; and a Simpson County man, 72.
• Six of the deaths were in long-term-care facilities, bringing their death toll to 207, including two staff members. State testing found cases in 39 more residents and 27 more employees, for respective totals of 1061 and 488. "All across the country we’re finding out there’s a lot of asymptomatic staff members," who can spread the virus without knowing it, Beshear said.
• Asked if his administration had done enough, early enough, for nursing homes, which account for most COVID-19 deaths, Beshear said "I believe we did everything in our power with the resources we had. We did done of the first visitor bans in the country," and other steps. He said there are things he would have done differently, having learned from experience, but said he had made "made the very best decisions based on the data in front of us and what we’ve known at the time."
• The governor said he plans to issue guidance for youth sports Friday, so organizers and parents will have time to plan for the June 15 opening.
• Asked if hospitals are falsely identifying patients as COVID-19 so they can get more money from Medicare and Medicaid, Stack said "I have no sense that's occurring" and Friedlander said he was "very confident" that it is not, partly because such records are subject to federal audits.
• Beshear, asked about Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's opposition to continuing extra unemployment benefits, which some conservatives think discourage returns to work, Beshear said "I think we’re gonna have plenty of people ready to go back to work. What I want to make sure is that people who need help are getting help. … I am not for cutting the benefits at this time."
Kentucky Health News is an independent news service of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, based in the School of Journalism and Media at the University of Kentucky, with support from the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky.