FRANKFORT, Ky. — Kentucky released its guidance to keep students healthy at school as they return to classrooms or keep learning remotely this fall.
Education Commissioner Kevin Brown released some of these guidelines and best practices at a Wednesday press conference. Those include social distancing, requiring students and faculty to wear cloth face masks and utilizing local health departments' contact tracing with local health departments.
"If a student is moving, they need to have a mask on. If they are less than six feet, they need to have a mask on," Brown said.
Brown said school buses will be able to transport students at capacity, provided they are wearing masks, undergo temperature screenings or have "parental assurance" that their child does not have a fever of 100.4 degrees. Students will be screened at school as well. More specific guidance on pupil transportation will be released Thursday, Brown said.
Additionally, Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman temporarily suspended the 10-day limit on nontraditional instruction (NTI) days and average daily attendance figures used to calculate state funding for the 2021 school year.
“Our school districts are developing models that work best for their unique communities, and this memorandum provides the flexibility they requested and they need,” Coleman said at Wednesday's press conference.
This also means some districts can allow students who don't wish to wear masks to learn remotely.
"I would leave it up to the school district as to how they choose to respond to these challenges, because it's gonna look different in every corner of Kentucky," Coleman said
On June 15, Beshear and Coleman said the state's "Education Continuation" task force, formed three months ago by parents, teachers, superintendents, school board members, coaches and other public education specialists, are currently creating new guidelines to be “Healthy at School.”
The task force would also work with each Kentucky community’s local school boards and health departments to find the best practices for bringing students back into classroom learning in the fall. At the time, Beshear said as children eventually begin in-person instruction again, parents should be prepared for potential intermittent school closures due to the virus.
"We are allowing the flexibility to school districts to resume educational services as they see fit," Coleman said, adding that some districts have already announced they will resume classes digitally while others are using a mix of digital learning and in-person instruction.
Ky. COVID-19 numbers
After Kentucky reported 11 new virus-related deaths Tuesday, another person has reportedly died of the virus Wednesday. That means a total of 538 people have reportedly died of COVID-19 out of 14,363 virus cases so far. More than 3,706 people have recovered from the virus, and the state has tested 368,152 people as of Wednesday.
NKY Health reported that 1,585 people in Boone, Campbell, Kenton and Grant counties have tested positive for coronavirus since March and 76 people have died of the virus as of Wednesday.
Kentucky will add another testing site in Kenton County next week after seeing “disturbing” numbers in Cincinnati and NKY, Beshear said. Kenton (741 cases) and Boone (580 cases) counties are currently in the top five highest case numbers, followed by Jefferson (Louisville, 3,682 cases) Warren (Bowling Green, 1,398 cases) and Fayette (Lexington, 1,240).
In long term care facilities, 1,698 residents have tested positive for COVID-19, and 339 residents have died. In those facilities, 812 staff have contracted COVID-19 and three have died as of Wednesday. Kentucky has extensively tested residents of long-term care facilities in recent weeks.
"While this is growing, this is becoming more stable," Beshear said.
To find one of the 205 free coronavirus testing locations in Kentucky, click here.
What's reopening in Kentucky?
Bars, wedding venues and youth sports can reopen and resume on Monday, June 29, Beshear said Monday.
With newly-released guidelines in place, public pools can reopen and gatherings of up to 50 people can also resume starting June 29.
Among the requirements for pool centers are social distancing and limited pool capacity. Any time their heads are above water, swimmers must maintain a distance of six feet from people who aren't from the same household. Seating at swimming facilities will also be spaced six feet apart, and pools are asked to encourage guests to bring their own seats whenever possible.
Many of the guidelines to host large events already apply to groups of 10 people or fewer, which have been allowed to resume in the commonwealth. Among the new guidelines are continuing to socially distance, wearing cloth masks, not sharing food or drinks and hosting events outside whenever possible.
See what else is reopening in Kentucky here.
Calls for better unemployment system
In the wake of closures due to coronavirus that prompted layoffs and furloughs, Kentucky's unemployment rate soared from 4.2% in February to 15.4% by April 2020. The state's unemployment insurance system struggled to keep up with the influx of claims.
In-person unemployment help will be available 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. by online appointment for the rest of the week at Frankfort's unemployment office. On Monday and Tuesday, in-person help will be Ashland and Owensboro from 9 a.m. - 6 p.m. local time Monday. On July 7 and 8, you can find help at the Somerset and Hopkinsville offices. Details on how to make an appointment online will be available soon, Beshear said.
Labor Cabinet Secretary Larry Roberts will become the new commissioner for unemployment insurance and an outside communications and training vendor is being consulted to beef up Kentucky’s unemployment infrastructure and to train more unemployment adjudicators, Beshear said Tuesday.
This comes after dozens of people were turned away from unemployment offices Wednesday as they closed in Frankfort at 7 p.m. -- after they waited in line 10 hours in the sun.
"What an awful feeling that must have been," Beshear said at a press conference Thursday afternoon.
Those turned away were contacted Thursday morning, and 61 of the 67 who were turned away had their claims resolved as of 3:15 p.m., Beshear said.
On Thursday, Beshear said he wants to see better funding, more employees and more offices open to assist Kentuckians with pandemic and unemployment assistance going forward.
"We had a system that was designed to tell you 'no,' ... hoping you wouldn't come back," Beshear said.
The number of unemployment offices around the state shrank from 51 to 29 in 2017, Beshear said. The system’s $41 million budget in 2010 was cut down to $25 million in 2018. Those offices are using a 20-year-old computer system to process hundreds of thousands of claims.
"I hope that we will never starve these systems again, that we will maintain and improve what we have, and that we realize that everybody needs a little help sometimes, and once in every 100 years, or more frequently, a whole lot of us need help really fast," Beshear said.
Meanwhile, the Team Kentucky Fund has given a total of $350,215 to 421 households since it was launched in March, Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman said Thursday.
Currently, 398 applications pending approval with documentation.
To donate or apply for vouchers to the Team Kentucky Fund, visit www.capky.org.
Watch a replay of the briefing in the player below: