(WEHT) — In the midst of the pandemic, Eyewitness News’ Brandon Bartlett had a one-on-one conversation with Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear.
Brandon Bartlett: Governor Beshear, thank you so much for being with us tonight. The great debate right now is when to reopen. Some say open now, others say wait a few more months. When do you think that we can reopen? I know you said before that when the numbers go down, but walk us through what phase one will actually look like.
Gov. Andy Beshear: Well first, thank you for having me. And let me start the way I always start by reassuring the people of the Commonwealth of Kentucky that we will get through this and we will get through this together. We have come so far. We have flattened the curve. We have taken actions and made sacrifices that have stopped some really awful results that could have come from this worldwide pandemic. And for that, I am grateful. The citizens of the commonwealth, by their sacrifice, have saved so many lives. What we’ve got to make sure now, because we are still in the midst of this virus, is that we don’t reopen in a rushed fashion. We don’t reopen in a fashion that hasn’t been thought through. That we do this in a smart and safe, gradual, and phased manner. And what that means is first we make sure that cases, or at least the rate of new cases of Covid-19 are on the decline. This is not just guidance, but a pre-requisite that has come straight from the White House that the Vice President talks about time and time again. Now, while we don’t think we have started to see those two weeks of decline, we do believe that we have plateaued here in the Commonwealth. And so we are watching the data day by day to start seeing that decline. In the meantime, we are hard at work building up our testing capacity, we are going to be hiring hundreds of contact tracers, and making sure that we have received plans and gone back and forth with various businesses to make sure as we reopen, that we do it as safely as possible. Every Kentucky and deserves that and every worker deserves that. So it’s not a question of speed. It’s a question of being smart. And what I’ve seen from our business owners is they want to do it the right way. Protect their employees, protect their customers. We don’t have to be the fastest we just have to be the best to protect our people.
Brandon Bartlett: Governor, when you do reopen Kentucky, do you see a scenario where certain areas with fewer cases might be able to reopen before those with a larger number of cases?
Gov. Beshear: Well, we’ve got to be fluid and flexible as we begin to reopen Kentucky. We could potentially see some regional differences. But let’s remember what a region is. It’s not a specific county because the virus doesn’t care which county that you’re in. And we’ve got a lot of people in Kentucky that live in one place and work in another and very quickly, something can become a hotspot. Look at so many hard-hit places in Western Kentucky. My heart goes out to Hopkins and Muhlenberg and Christian county that have been hit. And even if it doesn’t look like you have a lot of cases, remember, most people who get the coronavirus are asymptomatic. They’re not showing any symptoms, they’re feeling fine. And their contacts might make it in to say, a nursing home where we have seen some really devastating results. So just because we may say, “Well, we’re not getting positives.” Remember, we don’t have a lot of testing and we got to be careful about the asymptomatic folks. That doesn’t mean that we wait on our reopening plans, it just means that we do it in a fashion where people are temperature checked when they’re coming in, that we have testing and contact tracing for employees and folks in every single community, and it’s got to be done gradually. And let me just say, this is going to be a new normal. Anybody who thinks that any business is going to look the same as we reopen as it did before. You got to think that everybody who can telework should still be teleworking, there shouldn’t be any waiting rooms and in any type of business. So things are going to look different as we reach a new normal until we get to the vaccine stage, where hopefully we can get back to the regular normal.
Brandon Barltett: All right, well, you recently talked with school superintendents across the state. Will schools open in a few months…next year?
Gov. Beshear: Well, what we know is that we’re not going to have in-person classroom activity for the rest of this school year. And one of the reasons that we are doing that and taking these other actions is that we want to get through this in a way to where we save lives. But we also defeat this Coronavirus the very first time by the actions were taken. And by being patient and planning and showing perseverance, we can make sure we don’t get that second spike that you see in the St. Louis map, which not only killed more people than their first spike, but also prevented their economy from staying open after they had attempted to reopen it. My goal is to do everything we can so our kids get to start the next school year and as normal of a fashion as they can, though even there, there are going to be changes but that should be all of our goals.
Brandon Barltett: And Governor, I have to ask you, will I be able to see a football game next year?
Gov. Beshear: Well, this is one of those areas whereas you think through how we reopen and the new normal. Once we get to the prerequisites met, we’re working on our planning right now. We hit phase one. Now phase one doesn’t have large events and that many people coming together, and neither does phase two. So I would say that what I think we will see first are sports where they have done significant planning, where they do a lot of the things that we’re going to be doing in our businesses, but likely have either no fans or significantly reduced numbers of fans. Remember when we look at the Spanish flu, and we look at that Philadelphia versus St. Louis graph, one of the reasons Philadelphia spiked was because of a parade where hundreds of thousands of people came out. So I want to see our sports open up and start again as much as anybody else, but they’ve got to do it safely, and we’ve got to keep our fans as safe as possible as well.
Brandon Bartlett: Governor, Tyson Foods in Henderson County has around 54 positive cases right now. In a situation like that, is there a point when the state says you need to close down?
Gov. Beshear: Well, we work directly with local health departments and those employers to make sure that they are operating as safely as possible. Now that that type of facility is part of the essential businesses that have to stay open, or at least the industry has to stay open, to make sure that there’s enough food for everybody out there. But it’s certainly concerning when we start seeing that number of cases and the questions that you’d asked to any employer and that we’ve had to ask to a number of employers is having made changes does it look like it did two months ago? Have you spread people out? Are you using PPE? Are you doing temperature checks when when people come in? Those are going to be the new normals we face and even those essential businesses that have been operating are going to have to start adapting to those heightened standards. As well, we’ve got to protect one another. We’ve done too much. We’ve come too far. We are passing that test of humanity, and we got to keep it up.
Brandon Barltett: A new study just out shows that Kentucky has the fifth highest increase in unemployment compared to other states. Do you see any job cuts coming for state workers?
Gov. Beshear: Well, one of the reasons that we have that statistic is we are doing a better job than virtually any other state of signing people up for unemployment. You know, we have made major sacrifices to defeat this coronavirus and other states have to. And I believe there’s the same amount of general unemployment everywhere out there. It’s what states are doing everything they can as quickly as they can to make sure their citizens have what they need to get through this. And that’s unemployment for a whole lot of people. It’s temporary, but they need it to get through this period of time. It’s also services like Medicaid. And we were talking to a major national technology company that was trying to help us with our unemployment process. And they told us that we are doing the best job that they’ve seen in the country at the rates that we’re signing people up. So it’s not that we have more people that aren’t going to work, it’s that we’re just taking care of them better. But again, that all ought to be temporary. As far as the state goes, every state in this country, and our local governments are all going to need help from the federal government. Without that you are going to see services cut, you’re going to see a deeper recession, less support for nonprofits that help us in so many different ways. And I will tell you, every state is united in asking this of the federal government. It’s gonna need to happen just like it happened in 2008. And that’ll ensure that we still have the teachers we need in our classrooms, the firefighters and police officers that help protect us. It’s something that the federal government is going to have to do and I’m going to keep pushing.
Brandon Bartlett: Let’s go back to the beginning of all of this. You laid out guidelines to stop the spread before many other guns across the country did. Why is that and what made you act so quickly?
Gov. Beshear: Well, I love the Commonwealth of Kentucky. And I view the people of Kentucky as my people. I care about their health, and their safety. And when this virus hit, the very first case, I declared a state of emergency knowing that this virus comes for those that have heart, lung and kidney disease. And we’re in the tops of those categories in the country. So we had to act swiftly because our people were in more danger. And we have flattened that curve. But I tell you what, it’s not because of me. I put some orders into effect, but it’s because the citizens of Kentucky agreed and came together and did what it takes, has follow the guidance. Look at what our houses of worship have done, shutting down in person services and reaching people in other ways. But knowing how serious this is, I mean, we’ve never been more united as a people In Kentucky than we are right now. The defeat of the coronavirus and Kentucky isn’t going to go down as the success of me, of Andy Beshear. It’s going to go down as the success of the people of Kentucky.
Brandon Barltett: Governor, you also mentioned early on that churches should consider not holding in-person services, but rather use live streaming instead. That drew a lot of criticism. And you have said that you are a man of faith yourself. Was that a hard decision for you to make and was it the right decision?
Gov. Beshear: Well, it was a very hard decision to make. Church is incredibly important to my family. We spend multiple days a week there. I’m a deacon in my church. My kids sing in the choir and my son was supposed to get baptized on Easter. And you know, what’s amazing is that kid said to me, that while he was disappointed if it would help other people, he would wait. I think that’s living out our faith. Realizing that a mass gathering like an in-person service can spread this disease and resulting in harm and death, like it has, in a couple of instances, sadly, in Kentucky, but also across the country. Live in our faiths as we protect one another. As a deacon, I thought about those that I serve communion to, and how many of them we’re in that most vulnerable population. And I tell you what, across Kentucky to our knowledge, all but one house of worship, closed to in-person services. Isn’t that incredible? All coming together, even though we may be different denominations or different faiths, doing what’s best for our people. I think everybody has lived out their faith in that manner. And as we’ve seen with flattening the curve, it was the right thing. Now, we want to work as soon as we can, working through the steps that the White House has put out, to try to begin at the right time opening up some of those services. But even that’s going to look different because for instance, those in the most vulnerable population are still at risk. But we got a great dialogue with our faith leaders out there. I believe they want to do the right thing. And we will involve them directly in those next steps.
Brandon Bartlett: Governor, are there any long term effects that you see this pandemic having on the state?
Gov. Beshear: That’s a really good question. We have had to pause our economy. We’ve had to make a lot of sacrifices. And I see that having short term effects on us. My hope is that we can reinvigorate this economy. Because, folks, if we can defeat a worldwide pandemic, the way we have, limit the devastation to a small, tiny fraction of what was predicted, we can do that we can absolutely rebuild this economy. What I hope comes out of this in the long term is a little different. You know, this is required us to pass a test of humanity, where we care about each other more than our own personal interest. It’s hard to be kind and compassionate. You’ve seen more green lights around Kentucky honoring those that we’ve lost than I’ve ever seen anybody come together and do something. So I believe what’s gonna come out of this is a reminder of who we are. The special people that we are. You know, my grandparents were a part of the greatest generation. If we come out of this and the way I think we will, I think we’re going to be remembered as the kindest generation.
Brandon Bartlett: I want to ask too, is there anything that you’ve done since all of this started that you wish that you had done differently?
Gov. Beshear: You know, none of us had ever faced this. And I’ve had to make tough decisions. And I’ve done the best that I can. Have there been things that I’ve said along the way that I wish I could have said differently? Sure. You know, in one example, I was asked about boarding our pets and I probably gave a flippant answer and there are people in that industry that work hard and do good work. And along the way, with the stress and everything else that’s gone along with it, I hope I’ve done what anybody else in my situation would have done, which is the best that he can. And sure, looking back when this is over, I’m sure you know Monday morning quarterbacking knowing the outcome that there are things that we probably would have done differently if we’d have been able to predict the future. But I hope that everybody knows I haven’t tuned in at five or four, for y’all or otherwise following this, but I care deeply about the safety of our people, and every day that that’s what guides my decisions.
Brandon Bartlett: And Governor, my final question for you. Once all of this is over and we do get back to normal, what are you looking forward to doing again?
Gov. Beshear: When all this gets back to normal, I’m looking forward to having a day that I don’t have to announce to the people of Kentucky those that we’ve lost. I do it every day because we need to honor those people, to remind ourselves why we’re doing this. And because it’s my decision, it’s my duty to ultimately protect the people of Kentucky. But I look forward to the day where we’re not losing people because of this virus and where we can ultimately focus on where we’re going. But I couldn’t be prouder, even with the difficulty of doing that I couldn’t be prouder to be the governor of the Commonwealth of Kentucky. We have the most compassionate folks anywhere in this country. They are doing their duty. We are truly one Commonwealth and I’m proud to be leading it.
Brandon Bartlett: Governor Andy Beshear, thank you so much for being with us.
Gov. Beshear: Thank you.
(This story was originally published on April 23, 2020)