The top five days for positive cases in Kentucky during the entire COVID-19 pandemic have been recorded in the last week.
Tuesday, Nov. 17 was the fourth highest day for positive cases in the state, with 2,753 Kentuckians testing positive for COVID-19. This brings the Kentucky's 1,700 total COVID-19 cases with a 9.13% positivity rate.
In response to this surge of cases across the Commonwealth, Gov. Andy Beshear announced a set of new mandates designed to stop the spread of the virus by targeting high-transmission situations. All new mandates, except those for K-12 schools, will go into effect from Nov. 20 at 5 p.m. to Dec. 13 at midnight.
The biggest changes concern restaurants and bars.
Beginning on Friday, Nov. 20, bars and restaurants will be closed for indoor service. Delivery, to-go and outdoor seating are still allowed. That restriction is in place through Dec. 13.
"Restaurants and bars are clearly spreading, if not the greatest spread of COVID-19," Beshear said, citing CDC, Johns Hopkins and Stanford University studies. "Any effort to lessen the exponential growth we're seeing right now requires this step."
Beshear acknowledged that this would be a tough and painful, but important, step for these businesses already hit hard by the pandemic. In an attempt to provide some relief, he announced a fund to help affected restaurants during the three-week restriction. This $40 million Food and Beverage Relief Fund will be primarily aimed at mom-and-pop businesses who receive less than half of their revenue through drive-through sales, said La Tasha Buckner, Beshear's chief of staff. Qualifying entities can receive $10,000 ($20,000 for two locations) to assist with costs.
Beshear made a point of saying that these new guidelines are not a lockdown and the economy is still open.
"Let me be clear about a few things. There will not be a shutdown, our economy is open," he said. "There will be no categorizing businesses as essential or non essential and asking them to close."
Retail businesses will not incur any further restrictions, but there are heightened regulations for schools and sports, not including professional or college teams.
Gyms will also be affected, with a 33% occupancy limit, mask requirement on and off machines, and ban on group classes. This occupancy limit also applies to pools, bowling alleys and similar businesses.
KHSAA has announced that sports and practices are postponed until Dec. 13. This means sports teams will not be permitted to do any indoor practice. Included in this are recreational gyms for cheerleading, martial arts, and gymnastics. College athletics are not under the same restrictions, Beshear said, citing a difference in resources that allows them to continue operations to some degree.
All K-12 schools must cease in-person instruction by Monday, Nov. 23. Most middle and high schools will continue remote instruction until Jan. 4. Elementary schools may open on Dec. 7 if their county is not in the red zone and they follow the health guidelines. Beshear applauded public institutions like UK for already shutting down in-person instruction for the winter by Monday.
Getting together for the holidays might look very different for those complying with Beshear's new rules. While he didn't ban gatherings, he set a new limit of eight people gatherings with members from no more than two immediate households.
For indoor gatherings like weddings and funerals, there can be no more than 25 people in the room.
These regulations are necessary to help keep Kentuckians safe while waiting for the Pfizer vaccine to become reliable and available, Beshear said. That vaccine was updated from 90% to 94% effectiveness today. They are also important due to the virus' effect on healthcare workers.
"What we are seeing is community spread like this is impacting our health care agencies, meaning that there are less of our first front and only line workers while the need for them is greater," Beshear said. "So our challenge isn't going to be when we run out of beds. It's going to be when we run out of people."
For activities not mentioned in the press conference, Beshear directed Kentuckians to continue following the current guidance at the Health at Work website.
Dr. Stack also spoke during the conference, warning Kentuckians to not let their guards down.
"At the levels this disease is spreading right now, there is no place you can go out in public to avoid getting exposed to it," Stack said. "If you leave your home now you should assume that there's a high probability you will be exposed to this if you get close to other people."
Following Beshear's press conference, UK sent out an email to students saying, "As previously announced, residence halls and all university support services will remain in operation through Wednesday as planned."
The email also said that move-out schedules will remain the same. It stated that the university will have more information to provide to students tomorrow.
Beshear urged Kentuckians to remain diligent during this third stage of restrictions. He said that while he knows addressing COVID-19 through his office's new restrictions will be very unpopular, inaction would be deadly.
"With two promising vaccines on the horizon, we've got to take action to make sure that we can save lives until we get there, and to make sure that as many of our Kentuckians as possible see the end of this virus and the new, amazing day it's going to be when we're past," he said. "It's time to do what it takes to finish this fight."