At the time, there were only a handful of cases in Kentucky. Bars and restaurants were always open, people were shaking hands, and live sports were on TV. But on March 11, Beshear, a 42-year-old Democrat, told Kentucky residents that the steps they had taken next month would be critical to determining how the state would fare in the pandemic.
As Beshear ended, the man he defeated by only 5,136 votes in the presidential elections in November gave a glimpse of how he could have handled the health emergency differently if he had been victorious.
“NEWS: Chicken Little has just confirmed that the sky is indeed falling”, former Republican Governor Matt Bevin wrote on Twitter. “Everyone is advised to take cover immediately and bring plenty of toilet paper when they do …”
It is impossible to know if Bevin would have remained so jaded if he had been governor.
“He took the right approach”
On paper, Kentucky is not ready for a pandemic. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, 43.6% of the adult population in Kentucky is at higher risk of serious illness if infected with Covid-19, placing the risk factor for Kentucky second after that for West Virginia in the USA.
Kentucky reported 3,373 Covid-19 cases with 185 deaths on Wednesday. Although it is not out of the woods, experts say the state is smoothing the curve.
“It is encouraging to see a slower acceleration than that seen in other states and I think this is largely due to the social distancing measures that have been implemented early and aggressively,” said epidemiologist Kathleen Winter at the University of Kentucky. “It is too early to say that we are really on the right track and whether this will have a longer term impact. “
“We’re not where we want to be in the end, but we’re definitely making progress,” said Paul McKinney, associate dean of research at the school of public health and information science. University of Louisville. “And we’re not as bad as we could have been. “
While other states were lagging behind, Kentucky was almost keeping pace with measures taken at coronavirus hotspots like New York: on March 5, Beshear began running daily press briefings on the virus; on the 6th, he declared a state of emergency; on the 16th, he closed bars and restaurants; on the 19th, he banned all mass gatherings, including religious services; and on the 22nd, he announced the closure of all businesses that were not “vital”.
Combined with his quick response to the pandemic, his calm and empathetic daily briefings (he begins by saying, “Repeat after me: we’re going to get through this.”) Have seen its popularity explode in recent weeks. Some have compared him to Mr. Rogers, but he was also firm, calling on those who challenged orders of social distancing, including dozens of people who protested the stay-at-home measures last week.
“I think the governor here, our current governor, has taken the right approach,” said McKinney when asked what the Kentucky coronavirus looked like with different election results.
Al Cross, director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Affairs at the University of Kentucky and longtime policy observer in Bluegrass State, said he couldn’t say that Bevin would necessarily have managed the situation differently and that many had made “many” stupid assumptions “about how the former governor might act.
“It would certainly be of character if Bevin behaved more like the Republican governors who were more lax than Beshear, but I have to believe that he will keep an open mind on this issue because it is so fundamentally important,” he said. -he declares. “Surely he was the guy who exposed his kids to chickenpox because he thought it was the best thing for them. “
“A very different result” across the border
To get an idea of what things might have looked like with different rulers, the Kentuckians crossed their southern border to Tennessee, where Governor Bill Lee was initially reluctant to close bars, restaurants, and non-essential businesses, in the hope of finding a balance between economic security and public health.
Lee insisted on not issuing such a residence order even though the state’s three largest cities – Nashville, Memphis and Knoxville – issued their own orders. While Lee made recommendations for the Tennesseans to avoid the crowds, he said there was no warrant needed to separate them, that residents of the state could be trusted to do their part without government interference.
In the end, Tennessee adopted many of the same measures as Kentucky – but they generally arrived a week later.
With Tennessee lagging behind, Beshear warned the Kentuckians not to go there in late March.
Tennessee reported 7,842 confirmed cases and 166 deaths on Wednesday. Cards created by a Kentucky resident and an educator Stéphanie Jolly comparison of Tennessee and Kentucky infection rates and numbers shows a more pronounced increase in cases in Tennessee, while Kentucky has maintained a flatter curve. They have received a lot of attention recently in Kentucky as a sign that social distancing efforts have paid off, although there are caveats: Tennessee has done more testing and has a higher population and Winter , the epidemiologist, says it is more useful to look at hospitalizations, although these data are more difficult to obtain.
“I think we could have faced a very different result and many Kentuckians recognize it too,” said Jolly.
Citing the devastating economic impact of the closure and saying that the spread of the virus has been slowed to a manageable level, Lee announced Monday that he would not extend the Tennessee home stay order after its expiration on April 30 and that some companies may reopen on April 27.
“While health prospects are showing signs of improvement, our economic prospects tell a very different story: record numbers of unemployed, thousands of businesses closed,” he said. “For the good of our state, social distancing must continue, but not our economic closure.”
However, the lifting of restrictions does not apply to six counties in Tennessee that have their own health services – among them, the counties are home to the state’s largest cities. These areas will formulate their own reopening strategies and deadlines.
Lee’s announcement came as the governors of Georgia and South Carolina announced that they would also reopen their economies and ease restrictions in the coming days.
On the other side of the border in Kentucky, Beshear remained more cautious, saying that a limited reopening depends on meeting the benchmarks, in particular a 14-day drop in the number of new cases and expanding testing capabilities. And although businesses may reopen in the weeks and months to come, Beshear has worked to moderate expectations that life will return to normal soon, claiming that gatherings like summer weddings and even events fall sportsmen could be threatened.
On Monday, the director of the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases, Dr. Anthony Fauci, warned that failure to follow prudent guidelines for gradual reopening could “backfire” and lead to an increase in cases.
“It just goes to show why elections are important and that elections have consequences,” said James Line, 24, a former Beshear campaign staffer, administrator of a Facebook group Beshear even that has grown in popularity due how the governor handled the pandemic. “If 5,000 votes had been reversed, we would have another governor right now and probably many more lives lost.”