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Most COVID restrictions to end June 11

By Melissa Patrick

Kentucky Health News

Turning one of the last pages in the pandemic, Gov. Andy Beshear announced Friday that in four weeks he will end capacity restrictions on businesses and other venues, and mask mandates in almost all places.

“On June 11 . . . life will be almost fully back to normal,” Beshear said at a news conference. He said the delay will give children aged 12 to 15 time to get fully vaccinated, and give everyone else time to get fully vaccinated if they haven’t done so already.

“Let’s be clear, a return to full capacity could raise the risk of exposure to those not vaccinated, but the solution is to get your vaccine,” he said.

Nearly 1.9 million Kentuckians have received at least one dose of vaccine, or 53% of the adult population. The Washington Post reports 35.1% of the state’s population is fully vaccinated, which means they are two weeks past getting their second dose of the Pfizer BioNTech or Moderna vaccine, or two weeks past a single dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

The announcement comes one day after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that fully vaccinated people do not need to wear a mask both indoors and out, with a few exceptions. Beshear signed an executive order Thursday to align the state’s mask rules with the new CDC guidance.

“The CDC has now given the green light for vaccinated Americans to return to much of their normal lives,” Beshear said. “This is great news. It should also be a compelling motivation to get vaccinated.”

Masks are still required for everyone on public transportation, in schools, homeless shelters, correctional facilities, health-care settings and long-term-care facilities, and for people who are immunocompromised, have symptoms of COVID-19 or have tested positive for the coronavirus in the past 10 days.

With great emotion, Health Commissioner Steven Stack acknowledged how good it was to see people’s smiling faces as he walked into the Capitol for the news conference. He called on Kentuckians to get vaccinated and to be kind to each other as people adjust to this change.

“I hope you’ll all still be kind and considerate and caring for each other,” he said. Noting that he is an emergency physician by trade, “We’ve all got to get on with our lives. . . . Nothing in life is risk-free.”

Beshear offered similar messages. “Obviously there’s going to be more contact, there’s going to be less space,” he said. “And if you are unvaccinated, there may be a greater likelihood that you could be exposed to COVID once we hit that June 11 date. . . . “If you are unwilling to get vaccinated, you really need to wear the mask to protect yourself from what is a pretty lethal virus.”

The governor asked Kentuckians to offer each other “space and grace” under the new rules and said it will continue to be a good idea to keep a mask close at hand for situations they may encounter. He said he plans to mask up when he goes to the grocery, for example.

Beshear also expanded his earlier announcement that businesses can operate at 75% capacity starting May 28, to venues and events with more than 1,000 people. All such limits will end June 11.

Until then, Beshear said, businesses can require masks, but “They don’t need to be checking for anybody’s cards” that show they have been vaccinated.

Beshear had been the target of calls by Republicans to end all mandates and restrictions. Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles, the most vocal, said on Twitter Friday that Beshear “is still holding Kentucky hostage for another month. . . . Kentucky will be one of the last states in our region to fully reopen.”

Beshear, a Democrat, was asked why he abandoned his initial threshold of 2.5 million vaccinations to remove restrictions. He noted that he has said repeatedly that he would relax rules as more Kentuckians got vaccinated, and the CDC’s new mask guidance for fully vaccinated people is “a game changer.”

“So, this decision is based solely on following the science,” he said. “I have tuned out political noise.”

In closing, he said, “We’re not fully done, but we are really, really close. We’re gonna get through this. We’ve almost made it through this. We will finish it together.”