FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky school districts were urged Friday to extend school closings to late April as Gov. Andy Beshear announced another statewide increase in new coronavirus cases.
The governor said he asked superintendents to extend school closures until at least April 20 to help contain the virus. He had foreshadowed his request in recent days by urging school officials to prepare for longer closures.
“That adds a couple weeks on, on what we had previously asked, but again it’s necessary,” Beshear said at his daily briefing. “And we believe it’s better to let you parents and others know ahead of time that we’re going to need to extend this.”
Beshear had previously asked school districts to close for at least two weeks as the state ramped up efforts to prevent the spread of the virus.
Districts statewide have complied and finished their first week of closures on Friday.
Most Kentucky districts have been using nontraditional instruction plans, which let lessons at home count as instruction days.
State lawmakers gave final approval Thursday night to a bill giving scheduling relief to school districts. The proposal was sent to the governor. The measure would allow districts to use as many nontraditional instruction days as needed during closures caused by the virus.
More than 60 virus cases have been confirmed in Kentucky, up from 47 a day earlier, Beshear said Friday. Two deaths in Kentucky have been linked to the virus.
For most people, the virus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. The vast majority of people recover from the virus.
Meanwhile, the state is responding to an influx of people seeking unemployment assistance as many businesses close or cut back due to the virus threat. The state started new filing procedures and opened new local office phone lines, Beshear’s administration said.
Kentuckians seeking unemployment insurance benefits should follow a schedule aimed at spreading out claims filings. The day people can file claims is based on the first initial in their last names.
The new filing procedures follow disruptions in Kentucky’s phone line and website for filing unemployment insurance claims earlier this week amid the spike in unemployment claims.
On another virus-related topic, Beshear has been asked repeatedly about when the state might set up the drive-through testing seen in some states.
“We are going to get it up as soon as we can,” he said Friday.
But right now, he said, the state lacks the testing and personal protection equipment — masks, gloves, goggles — necessary to run a drive-thru testing location.
“There is not just a shortage here in Kentucky, there is a major shortage nationally,” he said.
In other developments Friday, Four Roses Distillery temporarily suspended operations as business shutdowns spread to Kentucky’s bourbon sector in response to the pandemic.
The shutdown at the Lawrenceburg distillery was an “additional measure” to help contain the spread of the virus, Four Roses said. Based on the “current situation,” distillery operations are expected to resume April 6, it said.
The temporary production halt followed the distiller’s decision last week to suspend all guest tours, tastings and visitor center operations. All of its non-production employees have transitioned to working remotely, Four Roses said.
“We have made these decisions keeping the health of our employees and our communities foremost in our minds,” said Ryan Ashley, chief operating officer at Four Roses.
Four Roses is owned by Japanese-based Kirin Brewery Co.
Four Roses is the first member of the Kentucky Distillers’ Association to temporarily halt production due to the virus outbreak, KDA President Eric Gregory said Friday.
There have been no confirmed coronavirus cases at any KDA-member company, he said.
Also Friday, University of Kentucky students started moving out of campus residence halls. The state’s flagship university canceled in-person classes for the remainder of the spring semester because of the coronavirus outbreak. UK and some other schools in the state have shifted to online or alternative formats for classroom instruction for the rest of the semester.
At UK, the deadline for students to move out of campus residence halls is March 27.
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