FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — More than half of Kentucky's school districts have opted to continue requiring masks since the legislature shifted the coronavirus-related policy decision to local school boards.
So far, at least 90 of the state's 171 public school districts had signaled by Tuesday afternoon that they will continue requiring masks in schools, according to the Kentucky School Boards Association. More school boards were scheduled to meet later Tuesday to discuss mask policies.
Last week, the Republican-led legislature voted to scrap a statewide mask mandate for public schools and imposed a ban on any statewide mask rules until June 2023. Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear vetoed the mask-related language, but GOP lawmakers overrode him before ending a special session. As a result, the statewide mask mandate approved by the state school board ends Friday.
Beshear has said it should be a clear-cut choice as local school leaders make their decisions.
“There is one right answer — where you choose masking, where you protect your kids, where you keep them in school,” the governor said at a Monday news conference. “And then there is one wrong decision, where you endanger children and you allow COVID to spread throughout your community when your hospital is already overburdened.”
A school custodian in eastern Kentucky died from COVID-19 on Sunday, becoming the second staff member at Lee County Elementary to die from the virus since the school year began.
The statewide vaccination rate among youngsters ages 12 to 17 is the lowest of any age group, with 45% having received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine. In the U.S., anyone 12 and older is eligible for the COVID-19 shots. Meanwhile, school-age children are contracting the virus at a higher rate than any other age group in Kentucky, Beshear said.
On Tuesday, the state reported 4,030 new COVID-19 cases, including 1,154 cases among Kentuckians 18 and younger. Twenty-four more virus-related deaths occurred, raising the statewide death toll from the virus to at least 8,095.
More than 2,510 virus patients are hospitalized in Kentucky, and 666 of them are in intensive care units. Nearly 90% of the state's ICU beds are occupied, the state reported.
Also on Tuesday, the governor tied Kentucky's economic prospects to defeating the coronavirus, which he said means increasing vaccination rates.
Beshear has touted the state’s economic resurgence and its potential for more rapid growth despite the current COVID-19 surge caused by the fast-spreading delta variant.
But to realize the state's economic potential, the virus has to be vanquished, the governor said during a speech at the Kentucky Labor Management Conference.
“With that promise, with that chance for our families to be in a better position than they have ever been, what does it take to get there? It takes us defeating this darn virus,” he said. "It takes us doing what it takes to protect one another as we get there. And there’s no secret in how we do it. It’s getting vaccinated. These vaccines are safe and they’re effective.”
To overcome vaccine hesitancy, Beshear urged Kentuckians to “break that Thanksgiving dinner rule” and have difficult conversations urging their unvaccinated relatives and friends to get the shots.
“Right now, we are in a place where this delta variant puts your friend or loved one that’s not vaccinated at more risk than they have ever been in their life," the governor said in his speech. "So I need you to pick up that phone and I need you to make that difficult call. Yes, you’ll put your relationship on the line for it, but that’s the thing that’s actually going to get through.”
Follow more of AP’s pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic.