Beshear moves up business re-opening schedule

By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News

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.

Gov. Andy Beshear moved up the date for Kentucky to begin the second phase of its reopening, announcing Thursday that Kentucky’s restaurants can reopen May 22 at one-third capacity, and a goal of limited child care on June 15.

He said restaurants will be allowed unlimited outdoor seating as long as they keep tables six feet apart, the standard social-distance guideline.

“I know this isn’t the capacity that our restaurants probably want, but the studies that we look at show that we’ve got to be really careful about this step,” Beshear said at his daily briefing. “This allows it to be open for Memorial Day weekend, but please be careful. . . . This is the best compromise between public health and making sure we can restart this part of the economy.”

Beshear has been under pressure from Kentucky restaurants, especially in Louisville, because Indiana has allowed its restaurants to reopen. He noted that Indiana and Tennessee have reopened restaurants, but said his conversations with Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine “were a big part of it.” Ohio will open its restaurants before Kentucky does, and that would likely have brought the same sort of complaints from Northern Kentucky that have been heard in Louisville.

“We had planned it for a little bit later, but I think this is partial harm reduction,” Beshear said. He also cited “the belief that those that we have worked with sincerely want to do this right and only want to re-open if they can do it right. Many will find that they won’t be ready for that date. Don’t rush.”

He added that it’s important for restaurants to meet their industry-specific guidance, which will be forthcoming, and the 10 state requirements for opening, including such things as thorough, repeated cleaning; mask-wearing; taking on-site temperature checks of employees; making sure there is adequate hand cleaning access; and having a testing plan for employees with elevated temperatures.

“These aren’t easy,” Beshear said, adding later, “If we’re gonna do this, we’re gonna do it safe.”

Beshear also announced that movie theaters and fitness centers will be able to reopen June 1, campgrounds will be able to reopen June 11, and some child care with reduced capacity and potentially low-touch, outdoor youth sports on June 15. But he said that wasn’t guaranteed.

“This is a goal, a goal, we are pushing for,” he said. “We want to have a safe plan for child care, knowing that it is such a challenge for folks. I will tell you that it will be significantly reduced capacity and it will be very monitored to make sure that it’s safe.”

The gradual reopening of businesses that will begin Monday has increased calls to reopen child-care centers, but Beshear has said that would be risky. Unemployed people who get called back to work but can’t find child care will be allowed to keep getting unemployment benefits.

Beshear said bars and groups of 50 or more people may be able to open in July. Groups of 10 or fewer will be able to gather on May 25.

Beshear said Thursday, “Our goal in having a gradual plan is to be able to pause. And that would be our first step. If we saw a spike, we would pause where we are. We would look at where we’ve seen them, what type of businesses that we have; we would try to be surgical on those areas.”

The governor says another reason the state can start reopening is it will be able to test 2 percent of its population each month, as federal guidelines call for.

He spent a fair amount of time Thursday discussing the state’s increased capacity for testing, saying it would soon be able to do 30,000 tests a week. So far the state has only confirmed tests of 81,391 people; Beshear said the actual number is higher, since some labs have not been reporting negative results.

Kentucky now has at least 72 covid-19 testing locations, listed on the website. Beshear announced a new partnership with First Care Clinics, which can now provide tests at 13 locations across the state, seven days a week, at no cost.

“Folks, this is big news,” Beshear said. “There’s now no excuse” to not get a test. “Now we all have the tools to do the right thing and protect one another.”