FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky’s governor said Tuesday he extended his mask mandate for another 30 days and promised stricter enforcement as the state struggles with surging numbers of coronavirus cases.
With the state on pace to set another record high for weekly COVID-19 cases, Gov. Andy Beshear said the mask requirement follows recommendations from President Donald Trump’s administration.
“This isn’t political. It just saves lives,” the Democratic governor said before reading aloud a portion of the White House guidance calling for masks to be worn in indoor public settings.
Masks and social distancing can help blunt the rising outbreak, Beshear said. His statewide mask mandate has been in place for months, but compliance has become more lax at a time when Kentucky is experiencing its third major escalation of virus cases since the pandemic began, he said.
“We have the power to stop it if we simply do what we know works, and that is wearing a mask, engaging in social distancing,” he said at a news conference. “And if we are honest with ourselves, we know that fewer people are wearing masks right now.”
Compliance helps save lives, keep the economy open and allow children to be in school, he said.
The state will step up enforcement of the mask mandate, and local leaders need to do their part, Beshear said. Inspectors from multiple state agencies will be part of the enforcement, he said.
“For our businesses, you cannot check people out who aren’t wearing a mask,” Beshear said.
Businesses serving people who aren’t wearing masks could potentially be fined or shut down for a period of time, the governor said. Or it could involve a conversation in which the business operator promises to comply, knowing that inspectors will check again, he said.
“All of that is really secondary,” the governor said. “The most effective way to get this to happen is to make a commitment again, that we probably got a little lax on, that you can’t be served in a retail or a business establishment if you are not wearing a mask.”
Beshear said he realizes it puts a hardship on businesses that have to deal with angry customers.
“It’s not the business’ fault,” he said. “I put the mask mandate in. All they’re doing is enforcing it.”
Mask compliance is essential because if virus cases continue to rise sharply, “those businesses aren’t going to have anybody in them,” the governor said.
Meanwhile, Beshear reported 1,054 new coronavirus cases statewide Tuesday, as total cases surpassed 74,100 since the start of the pandemic. He reported four more virus-related deaths, raising the statewide death toll to at least 1,218.
The state’s closely watched positivity rate — a seven-day rolling figure reflecting the average number of tests coming back positive for the virus — was 4.29%.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms that clear up within weeks. But for others, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, the virus can cause severe symptoms and be fatal. The vast majority of people recover.