Governor Andy Beshear has mandated Kentuckians wear masks in public, as coronavirus infections surge around the state and country.
The executive order Beshear signed Thursday requires Kentuckians to wear a mask in most indoor public places. That includes wearing a mask in retail, grocery stores and restaurants, except while eating. Customers who do not wear masks cannot be served, Beshear said.
"It's no longer voluntary, it's mandatory, and I'm willing to take whatever criticism comes with that," Beshear said. "We have a 'no shoes no shirt, no service.' Well we're in the middle of a worldwide pandemic. It's now 'no mask, no service.' "
The order goes into effect on Friday at 5 p.m. and will last for 30 days, after which the administration will review the state's progress. Local health departments will enforce the requirement, which could include fines for chronic offenders.
Wearing a mask is not required in your own home, or when exercising more than six feet away from other people, he said. Exceptions exist for people with significant health conditions and those under the age of five, Beshear said.
"Folks, wear a mask. It's not a drill," said Public Health Commissioner Steven Stack. "It's the biggest public health, or at least the biggest infectious public health threat, our species has faced in over a century."
Coronavirus infections are soaring around the country and the globe. More than three million Americans have contracted COVID-19 and more than 132,000 of those people have died, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
For that reason, Beshear warned Kentuckians against travelling for summer vacation. He said several Kentuckians have already contracted COVID-19 while vising Florida beaches.
"If you are going to a Florida beach where you know they are reporting almost 10,000 cases a day, you are likely to bring COVID back," Beshear said.
Over the last week, Kentucky has reported a growing number of infections, twice falling just shy of single-day records for new cases. The latest surge follows little more than a week after Kentucky re-opened bars and music venues, allowing crowds of up to 50 people to gather indoors.
Kentucky reported 333 new cases of coronavirus on Thursday, including 4 new deaths. Louisville nurse Dana Davis, 51, was among those who lost their lives this month. Davis worked at a Baptist hospital. It's unclear how she contracted the virus, Beshear said.
Following Beshear's announcement, Kentucky joins 22 other states who have implemented some form of mask mandate.
Rising Infections And Re-opening
The country's leading infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci warned Thursday that some states should pause reopening, or consider shutting down again, to prevent a major resurgence of the virus.
The World Health Organization has warned the pandemic is still accelerating and on Thursday acknowledged very small viral droplets known as aerosols can linger in poorly ventilated settings including restaurants, bars, nightclubs and places of worship.
Beshear said he believes that Kentucky can avoid backtracking on the economic re-opening if people take the mask requirement seriously.
The National Retail Federation, Kentucky Chamber of Commerce and local labor leaders are among those who supported the mask requirement, Beshear said.
Thursday morning Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer said he would have considered issuing his own mask mandate if the state did not follow through.
"It sends an unequivocal message that, you know, please, wear your mask," he said. "And more will wear masks as a result of that. And eventually social pressure, I hope, will get to a point where more people will wear a mask. It's the right thing to do."
Farmers Markets Unaffected
More than 500 businesses may be unaffected by the mask mandate due to a Scott County court order issued Thursday afternoon.
Scott Circuit Court judge Brian Privett issued the temporary restraining order preventing the state from enforcing any executive orders against Evans Orchard or any other Kentucky agritourism business. That could include farmers markets, distilleries and the Pike County Expo Center, Beshear said.
The order is the result of a lawsuit filed by Agricultural Commissioner Ryan Quarles and Attorney General Daniel Cameron on behalf of Evans Orchard & Cider Mill.
Shortly before Beshear's press conference, Cameron tweeted: "The Governor cannot issue broad, arbitrary orders apart from the requirements of state law, and a Judge agreed today by issuing a statewide temporary restraining order against his executive orders."
Beshear called the order "dangerous and devastating," and said his administration would appeal the ruling.
Where Infections Are Rising
Deaths associated with the virus have decreased in the last week, according to the CDC.
Experts say that could be because the latest surge in infections is concentrated among younger Americans who are more likely to work in the service industry, or more likely to be enjoying restaurants and bars.
Almost 40% of the infections in Kentucky are people under the age of 39.
It may also be that hospitals are getting better at treating symptoms, as one study from Milan demonstrates, or it may just be that deaths have not yet caught up with the new surge in infections.
To date, 612 Kentuckians have died from the coronavirus. At least 397 of those deaths were related to long-term care facilities.
The CDC anticipates virus-related fatalities will increase as more death certificates are processed in the coming weeks.