Many questions asked of the Lake Cumberland District Health Department (LCDHD) during its weekly COVID-19 meeting focused on the do’s and don’ts of businesses and social gatherings.
Those questions ranged from nursing homes to whether it’s okay to rent inflatables to whether hotel guests can have continental breakfasts.
One specific question coming from McCreary County Judge-Executive Jimmy Greene asked about how to handle outdoor festivals, such as the Blazin’ Bluegrass Festival scheduled for September.
LCDHD Environmental Director Stuart Spillman explained that for indoor areas and event spaces, capacity is limited to 50 percent of the maximum capacity.
For outdoor events it is more a matter of making sure everyone is capable of social distancing – staying six feet apart – and having all promoters, exhibitors and vendors wear masks when with the public, as well as following the specific guidance for their category.
Spillman said outdoor events need to have a way of registering attendees, either through check-ins or requiring names for tickets, so the event has a record of those who attended. This is in case a COVID-19 outbreak occurs that is traced back to the event, and the health department needs to do contact tracing for the people who attended.
Currently, gatherings of up to 50 people are allowed, although health officials still do not encourage such events.
Director Shawn Crabtree said, “Just because you’re allowed to gather in groups of 50 doesn’t mean during an epidemic it’s a good idea.”
He encouraged citizens to continue using the guidelines and use common sense when around large crowds.
“You can look at what’s happening at other states in the nation and see that some of the states that opened earlier, it’s really kind of backfiring on them now,” Crabtree said. “I don’t know what’s going to happen in Kentucky. … Use good judgement.”
As for renting or using inflatables, bounce houses and water slides, Spillman said that those could be rented out, but that they must be thoroughly sanitized in between rentals.
Officials discouraged yard sales for the time being, saying there was no specific guidance from state officials at this time.
Spillman apologized for the lack of information. “I know a lot of people want to do that,” he said.
Switching to food related questions, health department officials clarified that all restaurant workers should be wearing gloves, especially if they are handling ready-to-eat food or dealing with customers directly, such as taking payment.
Workers that are not socially distanced must also wear masks, although Spillman clarified that if someone is working in an area alone, even if it is in the kitchen, that person is allowed to not wear a mask.
That goes for when the worker is on break. If they are by themselves, then they are allowed to lower their mask, he said.
Restaurants are currently allowed to host inside dining at 50 percent of the restaurant’s capacity. They are allowed to use non-disposable dishes and silverware as long as they follow the proper procedures for sanitizing them.
Spillman said that until recently the health department hasn’t had cases of restaurant employees infected with the coronavirus, but that could be changing.
“We are having that now. I think we have five or six facilities that have had positive employees, so that is a vector and a metric that we are watching that closely,” Spillman said.
He then explained that a “vector” is similar to the epicenter of an outbreak, and can be a specific place or a person.
As for continental breakfasts at hotels, Spillman said that yes, guest can have those breakfasts, but they cannot serve themselves as buffets are currently not recommended.
When eating within the hotel’s dining area, gusts must seat themselves in a socially-distanced manner, similar to being within a restaurant.
Responding to questions about when nursing homes would allow visitors, Spillman said that personal care homes, such as assisted living facilities, are open as of June 29. Skilled care facilities, such as nursing homes, will begin to allow visitation beginning July 15.
Spillman explained that visitors to nursing homes are limited to two visitors, they must schedule the visits ahead of time, they cannot visit within the patient’s room and they cannot walk through patient areas.
“We do want people to be able to come in and visit their loved ones...but we want that to happen in a controlled manner and one that won’t cause us more outbreaks or more deaths in these nursing homes.” Spillman said.
Crabtree said that he understood families who want to see those living in nursing facilities, especially those who want to have quality time with someone near the end of life, but reminded them that several nursing homes around the state have been involved in major COVID outbreaks.
“I can tell you, there’s nothing that’s more frightening to me than opening the nursing homes back up. Only because we’ve seen how it can devastate a facility,” Crabtree said.