(The Center Square) - Citing a severe increase in the number of COVID cases statewide, Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear announced a series of new restrictions that he described as a surgical approach to contain the spread.
The new policies are set to take effect at 5 p.m. on Friday and run at least through Dec. 13.
Before announcing the measures, the governor said 2,753 new positive cases were reported Wednesday. New cases have risen by 400% over the last nine weeks. The state recorded 15 deaths, including a 15-year-old girl.
“I know this will cause some more harm out there, but we cannot continue to let this third wave devastate our families,” Beshear said.
Among the restrictions is the elimination of indoor food and beverage service at bars and restaurants. Outdoor dining will still be allowed, but the state is recommending either takeout or delivery.
Beshear said he’s allocating $40 million in CARES Act funding for small, locally owned restaurants and bars impacted by the order. Those eligible can receive $10,000 for one location or $20,000 for multiple locations to use for expenses. To be eligible, drive-thru service cannot account for more than half their normal business, and they must adhere to the state’s COVID-19 guidelines.
“We know this doesn't cover the entire impact caused your business by COVID-19, but we're hoping that it will help some in the meantime,” said La Tasha Buckner, Beshear’s chief of staff said.
In addition, Beshear announced private gatherings in homes will be limited to two households and no more than eight people total.
Other changes include restricting gyms and fitness centers to 33 percent capacity. Guests must wear masks at all times. Team practices and games as well as group classes are also banned. Event spaces for theatrical performances, weddings and funerals are limited to 25 people, while capacity at office buildings is reduced to 33 percent. Anyone who can telecommute is required to do so.
Schools are also affected by the order. Middle and high schools will go to remote learning through Jan. 4. Elementary schools can return for classroom instruction by Dec. 7 if they’re not located in a red county.
Earlier Wednesday, the Kentucky High School Athletic Association announced winter sports seasons, which were set to start this month, have been pushed back to Jan. 4. High school football playoffs, though, will start this weekend as planned.
Beshear, a Democrat, said he gave lawmakers an update about the order before he address the public. Republicans, who hold substantial majorities in both legislative chambers as well as all other state-level offices, were highly critical of Beshear’s plans.
Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, said lawmakers were not given data that shows why home-based gatherings are limited to eight people while venues like theaters can hold 25.
“The decisions today, made solely by the governor, were to limit and restrict businesses that may not survive based on what was proposed,” Stivers said.