Beshear says Kentucky might be leveling off virus cases

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky’s governor reported an uptick in coronavirus cases Thursday but signaled that the outbreak might be leveling off after surging infections hit the state earlier this month.

The state posted 659 new virus cases, up 40 cases from Wednesday. Total statewide cases surpassed 29,300 since the pandemic began.

The state’s positivity rate — a closely watched barometer reflecting the average number of tests coming back positive for COVID-19 — was 5.66%, down from a day earlier, Gov. Andy Beshear said Thursday.

While Kentucky remains in a “danger zone” in fighting the virus, recent daily numbers indicate the state has significantly slowed the spike in cases from earlier in July, he said.

“We believe what we are generally seeing is a leveling off or at least a significant decrease in the overall escalation of the virus,” the governor told reporters.

Kentucky had seven more virus-related deaths reported Thursday, raising the death count to 731.

Daily virus cases are expected to level off first, before the numbers decrease, Beshear said. “It’s my hope that this is where we are, but if it is, it’s only because we’re being really diligent,” he said.

The Democratic governor continued to stress compliance with his mask mandate — one of several steps he’s taken since the number of cases escalated.

Beshear said it’s probable that he will extend his requirement that most people wear masks in public. A 30-day mandate was issued earlier in July.

“I would guess that it would be at least another 30 days after that,” he said. “Why? Because it’s working.”

But he indicated that mask wearing could become an expectation for much longer than that.

“We ought to be ready to wear facial coverings in certain situations until either we get this thing really far down and there’s some reason that we think that it’s not going to come back, or even a vaccine,” he said. “But if we know that something is protecting us and keeping our economy open, we ought to be ready to do it.”

Beshear this week ordered Kentucky bars to close and restaurants to scale back indoor service in what he hopes will be short-term steps to combat the virus. He recently reduced the number of people allowed at social gatherings from 50 to 10. That rule doesn’t apply to businesses or wedding venues. He’s also urging Kentuckians to avoid traveling to states hardest hit by the virus.

Meanwhile, hundreds of people have been added to Kentucky’s contact tracing efforts.

Nearly 900 people are involved in contact tracing in the state, almost doubling the work force since May 1, said Mark Carter, who was hired to oversee the efforts.

The state could add nearly 290 more people based on the availability of federal funding, he said.

“At the rate that we’re going, and if we continue to see the infection at the level that it’s at currently, I suspect by mid-September we’ll probably be at a full complement of people,” Carter said.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some — especially older adults and people with existing health problems — it can cause more severe illness and be fatal.