Kentucky Democratic Governor Andy Beshear on Tuesday issued an executive order requiring individuals wear face coverings when indoors in all public and private preschools, K-12 schools, and child care facilities, regardless of vaccination status.
The directive applies to all teachers, employees, students, and visitors entering schools. Also, it mandates staff, visitors, and children ages 2 and older who are able to wear a mask do so when indoors at all child care settings.
The order took effect at 4 p.m. on Tuesday for 30 days and is subject to renewal. There are limited exemptions.
Dozens of Kentucky school districts started a new school year on Wednesday morning.
Beshear said the move was in response to the COVID-19 Delta variant and recent guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The governor emphasized that medical organizations, local health department leaders, education officials, and the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce backed his decision.
“We are in the midst of the fastest surge that we have ever seen during COVID right now,” Beshear said in a statement. “This is a united front of saving lives, keeping our kids in school and keeping our economy and workforce going.”
Beshear said the virus is “hitting kids in a way that we haven’t seen before,” but health officials say most children who are infected experience mild symptoms and do not require hospitalization. Still, the number of children requiring treatment has increased.
The governor cited data indicating a steep rise in overall coronavirus-related admissions.
“For hospitalizations, we are seeing the most significant, severe slope, meaning the rate of growth, that we have ever seen,” Beshear said. “We are doubling the number of Kentuckians hospitalized with COVID-19 every two weeks.”
Kentucky Department for Public Health Commissioner Dr. Steven Stack said the state saw a 43% increase in hospitalized COVID cases in one week.
The order projects without intervention, in two weeks Kentucky “will likely” have the highest number of coronavirus-related hospitalizations at any time of the pandemic. In addition, it cites CDC data that shows 119 of 120 counties in the state are “at substantial or high risk of community transmission of COVID-19.”
More details from the Louisville Courier-Journal:
Beshear pushed school district leaders to implement a universal mask policy in recent weeks, repeatedly stopping short of issuing an executive order.
Several districts ignored Beshear’s recommendation to have everyone mask up, instead leaving it up to parents to decide if their child would wear a mask.
“I’m going to have the courage to do what I know is right to protect our children,” Beshear said before announcing the mandate.
In recent days, however, many districts have been revising their mask-optional policies.
Gov. Beshear encouraged eligible Kentuckians to get vaccinated. According to the order, fewer than 34% of Kentucky children between ages 12 and 17 have received their first dose. COVID-19 vaccines remain unavailable for children 11-years-old or younger.