As President Donald Trump openly hoped for “packed churches” on Easter Sunday, April 12, and a signal of a reopened economy, Gov. Andy Beshear announced further restrictions on Kentucky businesses to stop the spread of the coronavirus.
Beshear said Tuesday that he would order all non-life-sustaining business to close to in-person traffic on Thursday, and even for those that sustain life, “We are going to mandate the type of social distance that we have to see out there to protect our people.”
Beshear’s order, and those of most other governors, runs against a line of thought among some business executives and economists that social distancing and the restrictions it requires will cause irreparable economic damage, and that restrictions need to be relaxed, perhaps by geography.
Health experts say it’s too early to change course, but Trump adopted the line of thought in an interview Tuesday with Fox News, saying he “would love to have the country opened up, and just raring to go, by Easter. . . . You’ll have packed churches all over our country. I think it would be a beautiful time. And it’s just about the timeline that I think is right.”
He added, “Now, people are gonna have to practice all of the social distancing . . . but we have to get our country back to work.”
Governors have more public-health powers than presidents to fight pandemics, but there has been tension and finger-pointing between some states and the Trump administration about their roles and performance. Beshear has steered clear of remarks about Trump, who is popular in Kentucky, but no more.
Asked at his daily press conference about Trump’s remarks, Beshear shook his head as he recounted Trump’s mention of large crowds, and alluded to health experts’ fear that easing up too early could lead to a resurgence of the covid-19 disease caused by the virus.
“We’ve got to be ready to do what it takes to defeat the coronavirus on the very first try,” Beshear said. “My son Will was supposed to be baptized in his church this Easter . . . He said, ‘Dad if it helps other people I can wait.’ All of us have to be ready to wait however long it takes, if it helps other people.”
Earlier in the press conference, Beshear noted that Monday had seen 100 deaths from covid-19 in the U.S., a record, and that Tuesday saw a record number of new cases in Kentucky, 39, for a total of 163.
Continuing his comments on Trump, the governor said, “We are just seeing the escalation of this virus, and to suggest that there is a short duration we can almost promise people is not something we should be doing.”
As Beshear spoke, Trump was holding his own daily press conference, and taking a softer line than he had earlier in the day. It followed a meeting with experts including Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute for Allergies and Infectious Diseases.
“Our decision will be based on hard data and facts,” he said. Asked what metrics he would apply, he said, “I will be guided very much by Doctor Fauci” and other professionals.
Fauci said, “You could look at a date but you want to be very flexible. . . . The country is a big country, and there are areas of the country … that we really need to know more about.”
One of those is Kentucky, where testing for covid-19 is not widespread because the state is short of the personal protective equipment that is needed by people who administer the tests.
Alluding to an earlier Trump remark, that states should work to find such supplies, Beshear said Kentucky was outbid for one order by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
“An order that we had the other day, FEMA came in and bought it, all, out from under us,” Beshear said. “It is a challenge that the federal governments says, ‘States, you need to go out and find your supply chain,’ and then the federal government ends up buying from that supply chain.”
FEMA Administrator Pete Gaynor said Tuesday morning that the agency was invoking the Defense Production Act to allocate testing kits and masks, but at his press conference, Trump said the use of the law wasn’t needed. He has been wary of using the law, which some see as a nationalization of private industry.
Later, FEMA spokeswoman Lizzie Litzow said, “At the last minute we were able to procure the test kits from the private market without evoking the DPA.” But she said use of it for masks was “still being worked through.”
Personal protective equipment is also needed at hospitals, which fear being overwhelmed by covid-19 cases. Governors and health experts say social distancing and other restrictions are need to “flatten the curve” of the outbreak so the health-care system can handle it.
“We’ve got to be ready,” Beshear said. “These are the lives of our parents and our grandparents. This is a significant outbreak that we’re having, and we’re all sacrificing so much. He noted the job and business losses being suffered by the restrictions he and other governors have imposed.
“We’re putting the lives of people ahead of our economy,” Beshear said. “We’re putting the lives of our people first. We’re putting the lives of people ahead of our financial security . . . After what we’ve asked you to do, let’s make sure we defeat this virus, and we don’t just set a random number of days, and then stop what we’re doing, and it results in a threat to the life of so many Kentuckians.”
Kentucky Health News is an independent news service of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, based in the School of Journalism and Media at the University of Kentucky, with support from the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky.