Gov. Andy Beshear opened his daily briefing May 15 by reminding Kentuckians that by now they all know the things they need to do and the behaviors we need to model to keep our cases down, to protect those who are the most vulnerable, and to make sure that we open the economy safely. Then he implored them to do those things.
"Remember, we really only have one shot to do this," he said. " We only have one shot to successfully reopen our economy during a worldwide heath pandemic. So if the approach is business as usual, what it was before this — it won't work. So let's make sure we are committed. Let's make sure that we are thinking through all of the different ways to do this right."
He announced that many tourist-related activities can re-open June 1, including most Kentucky state parks, recreational parks, lodges and cabins. He said social-distancing requirements and public health guidelines will apply, and that playgrounds and pools at these parks will remain closed.
Also allowed to open June 1: Fishing tournaments, auto and dirt racing; the Salato Wildlife Education Center, without its interactive exhibits, near Frankfort; parts of Natural Bridge and Cumberland Falls state resort parks; and the Red River Gorge in the Daniel Boone National Forest.
The Kentucky Horse Park, Otter Creek Park in Meade County and state park campgrounds will open June 11 to self-contained campers and recreational vehicles, in accordance with camping guidelines.
Beshear initially allowed campgrounds to stay open, but shut them down after reports of large gatherings at them.
"Now, just because we are reopening, just because we can have groups of 10 or less, doesn't mean social distancing isn't required," he said Friday. "So let's not mess up a good thing. Let's make sure that we do this in the way that we've been doing everything else, which is responsibly."
He said several state parks will remain closed to be used for temporary housing for COVID-19 patients, that are not sick enough to be hospitalized. They include Lake Cumberland State Resort Park, Lake Barkley State Resort Park, Buckhorn Lake State Resort Park and Blue Licks Battlefield State Resort Park. Barren River Lake State Resort Park will be closed due to renovations.
Tourism is an $11 billion industry in Kentucky and the coronavirus pandemic has resulted in the loss of nearly $64 million in tourism tax revenue, Beshear's daily news release said.
Acquatic centers will also be allowed to reopen June 1, but only for exercise. Beshear reiterated that public pools cannot reopen because it would be difficult to social-distance in such an environment.
Testing and readiness: Beshear announced that at least 127,689 tests have been administered across the state, which he said was an increase of 6,000 from the previous day. He said the state is finally at a place where anyone in Kentucky who wants or needs to get tested can get tested, and encouraged them to do so.
"Let's make sure you are protected, let's make sure that we're getting the testing we need to know the level of asymptomatic infection, and also making sure that you are not going back to work and spreading it and not knowing you are," he said.
Many are watching Kentucky's testing numbers as a measure of whether the state is ready to reopen its economy.
An analysis by "health wonks" who worked for the Obama and Trump administrations, as The Washington Post described them, concluded that the only states that had met federal guidelines for reopening their economies were North Dakota, which started reopening May 1, and Kentucky, which will open all retail stores Monday. Then CovidExitStrategy.org reclassified Kentucky as "making progress," but not ready.
The shift appeared to come from a revised analysis of the state's capacity to test 2 percent of its population for the coronavirus each month, as the guidelines call for. The website says Kentucky is at 82 percent of that capacity. Gov. Andy Beshear says the state has more than that capacity, but needs to get people to sign up for tests.
Asked about this report, Beshear noted that the state had more tests reported today, "so, I believe that while we moved from their 'ready to reopen' back to the 'close to reopen,' I believe that we'll be back in the "ready to reopen'."
He added, "Numbers are going to bounce . . . but we believe that we are in as good of a position as anybody, but that we are also doing this reopening in the smart way, which is not all at once, but gradually working our way into it."
Other "making progress" states and their estimated testing capacities included Tennessee, 92 percent; West Virginia, 59 percent; and Illinois, 100 percent. Illinois wasn't rated as ready overall because its rate of new cases is not declining. Kentucky's rate has declined 7 percent over the last two weeks.
The testing capacities of Missouri, Indiana, Ohio and Virginia were rated at 36 percent, 50 percent, 48 percent and 49 percent, respectively, putting them in a lower readiness category than most states; Virginia's categorization also suffered because its rate of positive test results is not declining. Kentucky's current positive rate is 3 percent.
Beshear said he would not hold a press conference Saturday or Sunday, but would make a video report Saturday with case information for that day; Sunday's numbers will be announced Monday.
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.