Governor Andy Beshear told the overwhelming majority of Kentucky church congregations that they "lived their faith" Sunday by worshipping virtually on Easter weekend, as the state seeks to halt the spread of COVID-19. But, he warned, a "small group" that continue to flout stay-at-home orders are endangering their neighbors and attracting coronavirus skeptics to the commonwealth.
During his daily briefing Sunday, Beshear said the state knew of seven houses of worship that planned to move forward with services during the holiday weekend despite pleas by officials to find alternatives. Around 50 people reportedly attended a service at Maryville Baptist Church in Bullitt County, including guests from New Jersey, a growing COVID-19 epicenter.
"Now if you're somebody in Bullitt County or just over the line in Jefferson, how do you feel about that?" the governor said. "You've been making sacrifices."
Beshear ordered law enforcement to record the license plates of attendees and deliver notices that they should quarantine for 14 days. No one was charged with any offenses, and Beshear said he does not believe further action, such as ankle monitors, would be necessary.
The Democratic governor's orders have prompted backlash from high-profile Republicans, including Sen. Rand Paul and the state's attorney general, Daniel Cameron. The top law enforcement official tweeted over the weekend that he was concerned that officers were being asked to "single out religious services," arguing that "doing no such thing for the people gathered at retail stores or obtaining an abortion" was the "defintion of artibrary."
Beshear told reporters the places that remain exempted are "necessary if you are going to be healthy at home" and the state is actively monitoring and inspecting businesses, 18 of which the state has cited for closure.
"None of this is about attacking any faith," said Beshear, who mentions his own Christian faith as a source of inspiration and guidance almost daily in briefings.
Pressed on the backlash, the governor said he's sure his actions will show up in future campaign ads, but he is willing to trade political popularity if it saves lives.
"I'm way beyond politics at this point, and what happens to me in the future because of decisions I make, at this point I don't care," Beshear answered. "My job is to save as many lives as I possible can."
New Testing Partnership
Kroger is set to begin offering free drive-thru testing starting Monday in Frankfort, with the goal of rolling out other sites soon and testing 20,000 people over the next five weeks.
Kroger Health President Colleen Lindholz said healthcare and other first responders, those over 65, and others with chronic health conditions will be able to use a simple online portal at krogerhealth.com/covidtesting to sign up.
"We believe this process is the first in the state of Kentucky ad maybe across the nation," she said. "It provides a very easy way for people to register for the test."
The grocer plans to expand testing across the commonwealth.
'It's Not Right'
Governor Beshear provided updated statistics Sunday showing that African-Americans account for a disproportionate number of coronavirus-related deaths in the state. Based on data from 81.6 percent of cases in Kentucky, the fatality rate among blacks was 22 percent.
According to the most recent U.S. Census data, 8.4 percent of the population in Kentucky is African-American.
"It's not OK and and it's not right," Gov. Beshear said. "It shows that there are problems in our commonwealth that, while they have existed for some time, they shouldn't exist anymore. And while I believe that the expansion of Medicaid in Kentucky has helped, there's a lot more that we should have done before now and unfortunately people in our society are paying for it."
The numbers echo data seen on the national level. An NPR report showed that in Milwaukee County, for example, nearly three quarters of those who have died of the virus were black, despite blacks accounting for only about a quarter of the county's population.