Kentucky's governor warned Thursday that more restrictions could be reimposed to combat the coronavirus if the state doesn't show progress soon in slowing the surging number of infections.
Gov. Andy Beshear also acknowledged he wouldn't ask school teachers to return to classrooms amid the current spike in virus cases. Beshear has said he wants to see schools reopen, but expressed misgivings about in-person classes resuming in early August if the escalation continues.
The sobering assessments came as the Democratic governor reported another 611 virus cases, pushing the statewide total past 25,000 since the start of the pandemic. He reported seven more virus-related deaths in Kentucky, raising the death toll to 684.
Beshear has already taken recent steps, including requiring that most people wear masks in public, to try to blunt the recent upswing in cases. The governor told reporters that "it's about time to start seeing" progress and said he'll assess the situation next week.
"We're going to have to really start seeing at least a leveling off — that's what we would expect to see first — or we'll have to consider additional steps at that time," he said.
"We just can't let this thing get out of control," he added. "We'll continue to take whatever actions that we have to, based on the guidance of the White House and our public health officials, to make sure that we can stop the escalation."
Additional steps to contain the virus could potentially include closing bars and reducing capacity at restaurants. Beshear said he doesn't want to impose new restrictions because people would be laid off and small businesses would be hurt.
But if he decides to take more action, he said: "Our goal would be how do we get the maximum impact on reducing the virus with the smallest impact on our economy."
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 has since taken new steps to try to reverse the state's record surge in cases.
Besides the mask mandate, Beshear recently announced limits on social gatherings and a travel advisory. Kentuckians traveling to several hot-spot states are recommended to undergo a 14-day self-quarantine. He also reduced the number of people allowed at social gatherings from 50 to 10. The rule doesn't apply to businesses or wedding venues.
Meanwhile, with school districts making plans for the upcoming school year, the governor raised concerns about the timing of resuming in-person classes with surging virus cases.
Asked if he'd be willing to return to school if he were a teacher, Beshear replied: "I wouldn't ask a teacher to do that today." He added that he wants to see where case numbers stand next week.
Beshear said he wouldn't be surprised to see some districts opt for virtual instruction at the outset or push back the start of the school year in hopes that virus cases are reined in.
"If we don't see a stabilization at least by early next week, I'm likely to make a recommendation that if you are (starting in) early August, that you push back a little bit and give us time to see if we can get it under control," the governor said.
He said there are "basic non-negotiables" as districts look to resume in-person instruction.
"I do want to see a school be able to spread kids out," Beshear said. "I do want to make sure that every child that goes, if they can't be 6 feet apart from somebody, wears a facial covering."
Meanwhile, Beshear reported that 581 people are hospitalized in Kentucky because of the virus, with 135 in intensive care. Both numbers were down from the prior day.
"We are still in a generally good place with our overall bed capacity in Kentucky, our ICU capacity and certainly our number of ventilators that we still have out there," the governor said.
But in a time of escalating cases, "that can get out of control really fast," he 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.