Kentucky is doing better than most states at limiting spread of the coronavirus, but "We're gonna have to start cracking down a little bit more on those who are willfully denying, or willfully refusing to comply" with social distancing, Gov. Andy Beshear said Sunday.

That could mean closing facilities, and that could include churches, Beshear indicated near the end of his daily press conference, after being asked how he would go about enforcing his order against "mass gatherings."

"I think you're gonna see a couple of announcements from us this week, but if facilities are still trying to open and allow mass gatherings, then perhaps those facilities shouldn't be allowed to be opened any more," he said, immediately citing Jack Roberts, pastor of Maryville Baptist Church in Hillview. (Sarah Ladd and Scott Utterback of the Courier Journal covered his Sunday service.)

Roberts (CJ photo by Scott Utterback)
"To the Bullitt County pastor who is continuing to have service, he knows now, we have at least three examples of church services spreading the virus in Kentucky, and we have multiple deaths tied to it. So we know it's a scientific fact, that him holding his service today spread the virus within his congregation, and at Christmas he's going to have fewer people in his congregation," Beshear said. "My faith would never let me put someone else in that position. It would tell me to love my neighbor as myself, and look at what that is doing, the risk that it is putting people in."

Beshear is a deacon in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). From the start of his efforts to limit the spread of the virus three weeks ago, churches have been a challenge, and some other governors have exempted houses of worship from their orders banning mass gatherings. Beshear has often referred several times to his own faith, saying Kentuckians should use the wisdom God gives them; Sunday, he put that point in political context:

"You know, when I was running for governor, or even when I started out, the thought that I would directly be telling a congregation that they shouldn't meet, I mean, that's beyond what you would ever have in political thought, but this is life and death. This is life and death, and what it means politically in the future, I just don't care at this point."

To some church members who had compared their services to grocery or hardware shopping, Beshear said, "You can have your service virtually. It's really hard to get your groceries virtually, and in a grocery store, we are trying to take as many steps as we can, to spread people out, to limit the number that are inside, to do everything that we can. . . . It's time for all of us to understand, and most of us do, what we're dealing with and putting the lives of other people ahead of our own."

Earlier, Beshear said "We believe that folks have done a lot better than we saw last weekend on our social distancing," and showed charts from an outside source indicating that Kentucky "ought to be proud of how we're doing." The charts, produced by Wade Fagen-Ulmschneider, a computer-science professor at the University of Illinois, showed Kentucky near the bottom in number of cases among the states, with an encouraging trend.
The scale of the chart is logarithmic: rising numeric values occupy increasingly less vertical space.
To understand it fully, note the case numbers on the left. For a larger version of the chart, click on it.
"Our growth curve is flatter and better than just about any state out there," said Dr. Steven Stack, the state health commissioner. At other points, he also said, "If we don't social-distance, we run the risk of undoing this. . . . It's because you listened to what we asked you to do, because the governor took decisive action."

On another matter, Stack said the new federal recommendation to wear cloth masks when around other people is no replacement for social distancing. "Overall, I think they're a distraction," he said, adding that people should stay 6 to 10 feet apart.
 
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.
 

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