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'One-On-One': With Governor Andy Beshear

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Karyn Czar, WUKY
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Governor Andy Beshear joined WUKY for 'One-On-One' Wednesday.

KC: Governor Beshear, it's been a few days since the Supreme Court ruling, and since you rescinded the school mask mandate. How are conversations going at this point between you and legislators, and where do we go from here?

BESHEAR: Well, certainly things have changed. I've been able to run the ball for the last 18 months and to make the tough decisions. When you know you're just one person that's a lot easier to make a really difficult and unpopular decision than if you are 100 plus people. And I think I've proven that I'm willing to do the right thing, to follow the science, even when it isn't personally popular. But now, as we move forward, a lot of those calls are going to have to be made by the legislature as we see the Delta variant burning through our population as we've set records and Kentuckians hospitalized, fighting for their lives in the ICU and praying to survive on a ventilator.

You know it's important now, more than ever, that we have the courage to make the tough decisions, to continue masking in school and to look at masking more broadly across the Commonwealth. The legislature has had some preliminary conversations with us. They've been cordial. We've been trying to lay out all the different things that will happen if the state of emergency dissolves, and that happens when the injunction from Franklin Circuit Court is lifted.

Our hope is that we can get to a place where certainly a lot of non-controversial things like workers compensation for frontline health care workers that come down with COVID, recognizing doctors and nurses from other States so that we can boost our health care capacity, that we can get things like that extended. But the legislature is going to have to think long and hard about those extra steps that we know will lessen the spread of COVID. Now that's a decision that they're going to have to make.

KC: Governor, in retrospect, do you wish that you had included more GOP lawmakers early on during state Covet briefings, or do you think that would have made any difference as far as these legal battles have been?

BESHEAR: We have had an open door this entire time for state legislators. We have had numerous members of leadership in our office during this pandemic for a number of things. Economic development, talking about needs for roads and bridges and there is always the opportunity for those conversations and so there's always been that chance. We've testified, oh, dozens upon dozens of times in front of committees. We've been able to receive letters and information. So there's always been an opportunity for constructive conversation and certainly always the opportunity for consultation.

KC: And we saw that with you in Secretary Adams when it came to the elections.

BESHEAR: Yes. And again, it takes two to have productive conversations. But we are certainly having good cordial conversations now, both phone conversations and in-person meeting with Senate leadership and today, an in-person meeting with House leadership.

KC: Are you anticipating calling a special legislative session?

BESHEAR: A special legislative session will be necessary to extend the state of emergency. Without that, so many different things that are important get undone. You know we’d previously talked about boosting healthcare capacity through doctors and nurses from out of state. It's also prescription refills for our seniors and the immunocompromised that don't need to be going to a doctor just to get a prescription filled. And the list goes on and on from there. I think a lot of non-controversial belt and suspenders types of actions that are needed to fight this pandemic that maybe people take for granted and don't know about would be undone and thus more people at risk without an extension. So that would take a special session. I think it could be a short one, and I think people are open to it. It's just coming to the agreement ahead of time.

KC: And you touched on this already, but we are breaking unwanted records day in and day out when it comes to COVID. There were heartbreaking accounts from medical teams during your briefing on Monday. They were difficult to watch and hear. And yesterday hospitalization numbers were even higher than they were on Monday. And one thing that I was taken aback by was there was a pretty big jump in the number of people on ventilators yesterday. What is your assessment as of today?

BESHEAR: Our situation in Kentucky is critical. We are in dire circumstances. Saint Claire in Morehead is already in disaster mode. The most difficult, heartbreaking mode of operation that any hospital can go into. Pikeville Medical Center has triage tents set up outside of their hospital. ARH Hazard is at the brink. Ephraim McDowell in Danville had to call in refrigerator trucks because they're not used to dealing with patients that are really, really sick. Their morgue fits two to three, and they had seven pass away in just a couple of days.

Our nurses and doctors are overwhelmed. We can't staff every bed that we need to. And every day when people go into quarantine because of exposures, we lose EMTs and EMS services that are so necessary. We are at the breaking point where every hospital and every ICU bed could be full within the next week to two weeks. And already that's happened regionally. And what that means is we lose more people, not just with COVID, but you heard, St. Claire talked about if there's a big bus accident that they won't have the capacity to help. They’ll do their best but this, this really creates danger for anybody who is injured, has a heart attack, has a stroke, and needs help. So we're doing everything we can. We're bringing in National Guard teams. We've made requests to FEMA for EMS and nurse strike teams, and we're trying to figure out every other way to free up personnel.

But the two things that get us out of this are, number one, more people getting vaccinated, right? We have to get more people vaccinated. And number two, wearing a mask. I mean, with hospitals at the brink, please, please, to everyone out there, wear a mask when you're outside of your home and inside somewhere else that will lessen the spread of the virus and make it more likely that a bed is there for your loved one when they are injured or sick.

KC: And on a personal note, I'll share in a matter of a week, this was probably about three or four weeks ago. I had eight known exposures. Each of them was over an hour. I wear my mask regularly, and I'm vaccinated. And I had four negative tests. So nothing.

BESHEAR: That’s happened to me as well. You know I'm out and about, but make sure I'm wearing that mask when inside. My family too. And we have repeatedly tested negative. Masking protects you as an individual. It protects your family that you come home to, and it protects those around you. It helps us to win this battle. So, please, folks, the science here is clear. Those that don't want to wear a mask will try to poke holes into it. But we've already seen that it works. And let me just say, if we are not universally masking in schools, school will not be in person.

We got an entire West Texas school district, entire district where every single person is quarantined. In Bowling Green, when one of the school systems went mask optional for three days, they got up to 1500 quarantines. Since they went universal masking, they've already cut it in half.  Wearing masks, everyone wearing masks in schools works. It means you can stay in school. Not wearing masks means you're going to end up doing virtual learning because it's not the government that will shut you down, it's COVID,

KC: Governor, let's talk about our healthcare workers here in Kentucky and the job they are doing. You just declared this Healthcare Heroes Appreciation Week. Hats off to these men and women.

BESHEAR: They are amazing. They are heroic and they are resilient. But they are also tired, exhausted and frustrated. They've been through so much trauma. You know, one of the reasons that some people don't take COVID seriously is you don't see it because we ask people to quarantine in their home. And when they're really sick and passing away, they're in a hospital. Which means all of that trauma of 74- 7500 people passing away has fallen on our health care workers. They've struggled to get people better. They've held hands of our loved ones when we can't be there, being that last voice, that our loved ones here as they pass away. And now they're frustrated. Rightfully so. A lot of us are. Because if more people would get vaccinated, we wouldn't be dealing with this very concerning surge that’s going to bring some devastation to our Commonwealth.

So, we’ve got to lift them up because we need them to keep coming into work day after day, even when they're tired. We need to do everything we can to tell them we love them, and we appreciate them, that we got their back and that they are so important. So call that healthcare hero that, you know, tell them how thankful you are and get your friends to do the same. If you're a local restaurant, do something nice, send some food during a shift. If you're a local business, think about having a discount or sending some gift cards or some T-shirts or anything. It's an organic thing. Just doing that extra effort to tell people you care about them can do more to lift them up than just about anything else.

KC: The nurses and doctors that I have interviewed since the vaccines were available and especially in the last few weeks, have said the number one thing the public can do to thank them is to get vaccinated.

BESHEAR: Absolutely. Vaccines work. They keep people from going into the hospital by and large. They save you from the worst outcomes, including death in this pandemic. And that means they free up hospital space for those that need it. They are safe and effective. I've taken it. My wife, Britainy, has taken it. We took our son, Will, who is twelve, to take it. We are praying for the day that my daughter Lila, who is eleven, can take it. I love those people more than anything in the world, and I would give my life for all three of them in a nanosecond. So it's not just me as governor that believes they're safe. It's me as a husband and a dad.

And the FDA just gave full approval to the Pfizer vaccine. That means it's gone through everything that every other vaccine that you take, and everybody out there has taken at least twelve other vaccines. 30 plus shots by the time they hit six-grade smallpox, polio, chickenpox, you name it. It is safe. That should take away one of those pieces of misinformation that's out there. And if you're unvaccinated, this is the most dangerous time that you will probably ever face for your long-term health and for possibly having the worst of the worst outcome in the short term.

So to all those folks out there that are vaccinated, we're calling on you to do something really tough. Break that Thanksgiving dinner rule and call someone you know that is unvaccinated. And I know it's at the risk of your friendship and your relationship, and just do everything you can to convince them. You know right now, those that will get vaccinated because I've asked them to have already gotten vaccinated. But hearing from someone that you love, hearing from someone that you care about and trust and that's willing to even put that friendship on the line is a powerful thing. That’s how we get the next group vaccinated.

KC: And someone's going to win a million bucks if they get vaccinated. So if you've been on the fence, you have today and until 11:59 tonight to get registered to win.

BESHEAR: That's right. We're going to have our last millionaire, our third and last millionaire for getting vaccinated. And for all the kids out there, because we're seeing this hit younger and younger people. We're going to have five kids in Kentucky, age twelve to 17 that win a full ride for their higher education. I've gotten to see ten of these bright Kentucky kids thus far. It's life-changing for all of them and their families. Almost all of them had siblings. And it's been funny to see the siblings that think they lost. And the parents say, oh, no, no, you won today too! So please get vaccinated, register, let’s push through. Let's beat this variant.

KC: Governor, touch on some of the bright spots that we can celebrate here in Kentucky amid all of this.

BESHEAR: We are certainly going through a time of tragedy but we are also going through a time of great opportunity. Our economy is on fire. We are seeing the types of investments all over Kentucky that we have dreamed of. It's the largest investment in Western Kentucky with Pratt Paper, which will be the cleanest, greenest, most technologically advanced recycled paper mill in the world when it opens. The largest investment in Western Kentucky in 25 years. We see Agritech and aerospace taking off in Eastern Kentucky, 250 new jobs in Whitley County for the electric vehicle market. And already this year we have created more new jobs and announced more new investment than in all of last year. And I think we could double by the end of the year. So it is an economy that is on fire.

Our state finances have never been better. We had the biggest surplus in our history last year. We had the biggest rainy day fund that we've ever had, which means we're going to be able to make more investments in our future coming up. With the American Rescue Plan Act dollars and the transportation bill that we hope we'll get through Congress, we can invest in more infrastructure than ever before.

Our potential is greater than at any time in my lifetime. And so this is truly our chance and our opportunity. We just have to grab a hold of it. To do that, we do have to beat this Delta variant. Everybody has to do their part. So there is, there is so much hope and there is so much promise out there. Let's just make sure we do what it takes to realize it.