FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear on Tuesday urged political candidates to lean toward virtual campaigning when possible and to follow strict guidelines if opting for in-person events as the state tries to stop a record-setting surge of coronavirus cases.
With Election Day a week away, the Democratic governor was asked about people campaigning in the dozens of Kentucky counties categorized as having the highest COVID-19 incidence rates.
The question came after Beshear reported 18 more coronavirus-related deaths statewide and 1,786 new virus cases — the highest daily case total for a Tuesday. He warned that the Bluegrass State is on pace to surpass its record-high number of weekly virus cases, set last week.
And the state approached another grim milestone — 100,000 cases since the pandemic began.
The escalation comes as candidates head into the final crucial days of campaigning.
While elections are important, so is public health, Beshear said.
“If there are ways to do it virtually — and I believe all candidates are trying their best to reach people virtually — that’s optimal,” Beshear said. “If it’s going to be in-person, I hope that the very strictest guidelines are followed. And if people can separate out and do multiple events with smaller groups of people, that’s better, too.”
The governor urged anyone hosting a political event to be “as careful as they can be.”
Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of Kentuckians have already cast mail-in ballots or voted early in-person — accommodations made to avoid large Election Day crowds during the pandemic. Beshear has urged people to vote early because of the surging virus cases.
Widespread absentee voting and weeks of early in-person voting are the result of an agreement between the Democratic governor and Republican Secretary of State Michael Adams.
Kentuckians are making their choices for president and a hotly contested U.S. Senate race, as well as congressional and state legislative races.
Beshear warned Tuesday that the new escalation has resulted in “more COVID now than ever before” in Kentucky. He again urged people to contain the virus’s spread by wearing a mask in public and adhering to social distancing guidelines.
“It is our duty as Americans, as Kentuckians, as good people of values and faith to come together once again to fight this virus,” the governor said.
Kentucky has reported more than 99,000 virus cases and at least 1,428 virus-related deaths since March.
Hospitalizations continued to rise, with 913 people in Kentucky hospitals because of the virus, including 233 in intensive care, Beshear said.
On Monday, the governor asked Kentucky counties hardest hit by COVID-19 to take further steps to contain the virus’s spread. The steps are recommendations, not mandates.
He recommended that people avoid hosting or attending gatherings of any size in those areas and that public and private events be rescheduled, postponed or canceled.
Employers are urged to allow employees to work from home when possible, and noncritical government offices are encouraged to operate virtually.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms that clear up within weeks. But for others, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, the virus can cause severe symptoms and be fatal. The vast majority of people recover.