FRANKFORT, Ky. — Gov. Andy Beshear predicted Monday that Kentucky’s children will return to a “very normal setting” when the next school year begins as the state rebounds from the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I do not think there will be a mask mandate for schools in the fall,” the Democratic governor said at a news conference. “I don’t expect it based on what we are seeing with COVID.”
The past two academic years were disrupted by the coronavirus, but the governor sounded upbeat about schools returning to normal in the fall.
“Right now, I think kids will be back in a very, very normal setting,” Beshear said. “That does include information where we believe there will be the opportunity for kids younger than 12 to be vaccinated by the time they go back. I’m very much looking forward to a full, normal school year for my kids and for everybody else’s.”
The governor reported that more than 6,000 Kentucky adolescents have so far received a dose of COVID-19 vaccine. Overall, about 54% of the state’s adult population has gotten at least one shot of the vaccine, including 80% of Kentuckians age 65 and older.
The state reported 285 new coronavirus cases and six more virus-related deaths Monday.
In West Virginia, Dr. Clay Marsh, vice president of health sciences at West Virginia University and the state’s COVID-19 czar, said he endorses the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidance lifting face mask requirements for those who are fully vaccinated because of what he called the amazing effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines.
“We want to return as many of the liberties and normalcies as quickly as we can to the people of the state,” he said of guidance lifting mask mandates outdoors and in most indoor settings for the fully vaccinated.
Thursday’s announcement by the CDC has drawn a mixed response from public health officials and health care providers, with many criticizing the decision as being premature with fewer than half of all Americans fully vaccinated. They say it will force businesses, schools and event organizers to act as “vaccine police” to ascertain whether people are fully vaccinated or not.
On Sunday, National Nurses United, the largest national union of registered nurses, denounced the decision, stating, “This newest CDC guidance is not based on science, does not protect public health and threatens the lives of patients, nurses and other front-line workers across the country.”
Marsh, however, said during West Virginia’s COVID-19 briefing Monday he believes the data support the change in guidance, citing multiple studies showing the vaccines are 90% effective in preventing infection and 95% to 97% effective in reducing severity of illness for those who become infected.
He said he also supports the decision because there is sufficient supply to vaccinate all eligible Americans. He conceded that vaccine reluctance remains a challenge.
“These vaccines don’t cause sterility. They don’t give you the virus. They don’t have microchips, and they don’t affect your DNA,” Marsh said, referencing rumors about the vaccines.
He also stressed that he supports people, businesses and other entities opting to continue to wear or to require mask wearing, stating, “Wearing a mask is no big deal, and could certainly protect you more.”
Also during Monday’s COVID-19 briefing, Gov. Jim Justice said he plans to move forward on his announcement to cut off $300-a-week federal supplemental unemployment benefits June 19, contending that many of the 24,000 West Virginians drawing unemployment are “gaming the system” by refusing to find work.
The governor announced Friday he will cut off the benefits because he believes they are disincentivising West Virginians from seeking work. He did not sway from that position Monday, even though WorkForce West Virginia is reinstating work-search requirements for those receiving unemployment benefits June 1. The requirement to actively seek out and accept suitable employment had been suspended at the height of the pandemic.
Justice also said he is not concerned that his order will take $7.2 million a week in federal funding out of the state economy, or that it will affect those who, in his words, are “truly hurting” and not scamming the system.
“My comments are not directed at somebody who is genuinely trying to go back to work and who is genuinely having a tough go of it,” he said. “This is for those who aren’t working by choice.”
As for the effect of lost federal revenue on the state’s economy, Justice said, “I don’t think just sending them a check is beneficial. If we can get them back to work, it will be tremendously beneficial to the economy.”
The supplemental unemployment benefits were extended to Sept. 6 under the American Rescue Plan Act.
The governor reiterated plans to have the state offer some sort of matching fund as a “signing bonus” for unemployed West Virginians who return to work. But he was vague about how employers would be compelled to pay their share, or what could be done with people who work just long enough to receive the incentive pay and then quit the job.
In Ohio, 1,091,623 total cases were reported Monday, with 19,528 deaths.