A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Beshear asks coaches to put student health first, urges schools in ‘red zones’ to follow guidance

By Lisa Gillespie and Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News

With at least five Kentucky high school football games canceled due to the novel coronavirus only 11 days after the start of a delayed season, Gov. Andy Beshear said coaches are almost in a sacred position to protect the health of their student-athletes.

“If I was running a high-school program, I would want my team to be getting tested on some [regular] basis,” Beshear said at his daily briefing. “I would really want to talk about a partnership with my parents, ensuring that I always know how my athletes are feeling.”

The governor noted that college athletes are regularly tested for COVID-19, but Kentucky’s school teams aren’t even required to be tested once a week. He said it’s critical that coaches make sure student-athletes know their health is a priority.

Gov. Andy Beshear

“I [would] want to make sure I communicated to them that their health is most important to me, because their futures are big and bright, whether they include athletics or not,” he said. “Don’t try to come to a practice just because either it’s your senior year, or ‘We really need you.’ I think that that dialogue needs to be there.”

The Lexington Herald-Leader reports that at least five Kentucky high schools have cancelled football games due to COVID-19.

Kentucky school districts in “red zones” – where the prevalence of COVID-19 is considered ‘critical’ – have been advised to cancel athletics, Beshear noted.

“There’s a lot of anticipation and people look forward to it,” he said, “but I think [we need to be] really clear on the expectations of putting the student-athlete first.”

He said football, soccer and volleyball teams have all had new cases of the virus, and two of the five football teams in quarantine because of exposure, Franklin County and Woodford County, played each other recently.

Franklin County’s soccer teams are out of play and practice for 14 days after a male football player and the head girls soccer coach tested positive for the virus, The State Journal reports: “The boys soccer team hasn’t had any positive cases, but some members of the team play football and have to quarantine because of contact with the student who tested positive.”

Beshear pointed out that the state and the White House use different calculations to determine the coronavirus safety zones for counties, with Kentucky’s map showing nine counties in the red zone, meaning they have 25 or more cases per 100,000 people daily, and the White House listing 17.

“It ought to tell you that we’re trying to put together a really fair system. . . . in that the White House would have more counties in the red zone,” he said. He stressed that when a county is in the red zone — like Warren County, which he said has been in the red zone in every single White House report — it means it is in a difficult place and needs to take appropriate actions.

Beshear often points to Warren County, which was one of the first to start in-person schooling. The latest state guidance calls for red-zone counties to offer remote learning only until they get back into a yellow zone, which means they have 1 to 10 cases per 100,000 people daily.

The White House report for the week of Sept. 12-18 has 20 Kentucky counties in the newly added orange zone and 30 in the yellow zone. Altogether, 56 percent of the state’s counties have moderate or high levels of community transmission, with 14 percent of them having high levels of transmission.

Communities in the White House red zone have weekly positive-test rates higher than 10 percent and more than one new case per 1,000 residents. Those in the newly added orange zone have 0.51 to 1 new cases per 1,000, and a weekly positive-test rate of 8 to 10 percent, or one of those two conditions and one condition qualifying as being in the red zone. Yellow-zone communities have new cases between 0.1 and 0.5 case per 1,000 and a positive-test rate of 5 percent to 8 percent — or one of those, with the other in the a higher zone.

Statewide, the White House report puts Kentucky in the orange zone for cases, with the 19th highest rate in the nation. It is in the yellow zone for its test positivity rate, the 14th highest.

Beshear said of the 824 new positive cases of the coronavirus in the state Tuesday, 134 are under age 18, providing stark implications for in-person schooling.

“Whether it’s safe for our kids to be in school doesn’t depend on me, it depends on the virus,” he said. “And what we can do to stop the virus is wearing a mask and limiting your contacts. It’s your patriotic duty as an American and a Kentuckian.”

Seven new deaths were reported, bringing the state’s total to 1,119 of the more than 200,000 that have died nationwide. Beshear again urged Kentuckians to wear masks and social distance, calling the pandemic a war.

“This is a major challenge of our lifetimes: we’ll be judged by how many Kentuckians and Americans we let die,” he said. “While we can’t save everybody, we can save a lot of people. Wear a mask. Follow the rules that are out there. If you see crowds that are gathered, don’t go to the crowd.”

Beshear also noted that the state’s positivity rate had jumped up again, after being below 4 percent for a week. The share of Kentuckians testing positive for the virus in the last seven days is 4.52 percent.

With the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issuing guidance to states earlier this month on how to prepare for COVID-19 vaccine distribution, Besehar said he’s created a group that’s working on a plan.

“When we look at all the different steps, the first is what we’ll get and when we will get it, but then we need to think about storage, physical distribution, the fact that it’ll be two separate shots over 21 days that have to be from the same manufacturer when there might be three or four different vaccines, that means it’s the same provider giving them to you,” he said.

The group is also looking at who will get first priority and the overall safety of a vaccine. Beshear said he’d have to feel comfortable getting vaccinated himself before releasing it to the public.

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