Judge upholds Kentucky mass gathering ban, says no to travel ban

Coronavirus
Andy Beshear

Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear holds up a face mask while speaking about the novel coronavirus during a news conference at the state Capitol in Frankfort, Ky., Sunday, April 26, 2020. (Ryan C. Hermens/Lexington Herald-Leader via AP)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — A federal judge has ruled that Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear’s restriction on travel amid the coronavirus pandemic is unconstitutional.

But U.S. District Judge William O. Bertelsman sided with the governor on his ban of mass gatherings in a ruling issued Monday. A trio of plaintiffs who attended a church service in Louisville had filed suit challenging the two bans. The plaintiffs argued the mass gathering ban unfairly singles out religious gatherings.

“To the contrary, the plain text of the challenged order categorically bans all ‘mass gatherings’ as a means of preventing the spread of a life-threatening virus,” Bertelsman wrote in the ruling.

The three Kenton County plaintiffs said they attended an Easter service at a church near Louisville but wore masks inside the church. They received orders from the state to quarantine themselves for 14 days after attending the service. They sued two days later, also challenging the travel ban.

The judge said Beshear’s ban on travel “does not pass constitutional muster.” Bertelsman said, for example, it would prohibit a Kentuckian from visiting a relative in Ohio.

Beshear said at his daily briefing Monday night that he was aware of the ruling and was willing to amend the travel restrictions. Bertelsman wrote in a footnote that “minor amendments to the regulations might alleviate the problems.”

“If the judge believes that type of ban would work, we’re going to consider changing it to conform,” Beshear said Monday evening.

During the briefing, Beshear’s administration outlined a plan to combat a coronavirus outbreak at a western Kentucky prison. The plan calls for separating prisoners at the Green River Correctional Complex into particular housing units, based on their health condition.

Prison staff and inmates were tested for the virus, and results are expected to reveal more than 100 positive cases at Green River, the governor said.

“It’s a challenge and it’s a concern,” Beshear said during his daily briefing. “And it’s something that we are all concerned about and we’re going to be working very actively to address.”

Prisons have been hot spots for spread of the virus around the country.

J. Michael Brown, secretary of Beshear’s executive Cabinet, said Monday that inmates will be divided into housing units based on their health status.

Inmates who tested positive will be housed in one unit to isolate them from the rest of the prison population, Brown said. Another separate unit will house inmates who tested negative but were exposed to someone who tested positive for the virus, he said. Those who tested negative and had no direct exposure to those with the virus will be housed together, he said. Another unit will house those who are medically vulnerable, and thus at a greater risk of getting infected, he said.

“This can be somewhat of a model, we think, for other places, where we can apply all these safeguards, separate these populations and try to protect all of the people down there,” Brown said.

Beshear reported 163 more coronavirus cases Monday in Kentucky, bringing the statewide total to more than 5,240 cases since the pandemic began. The governor reported eight more virus-related deaths, bringing the total death count to at least 261 in Kentucky. More than 1,920 people in Kentucky have recovered from the virus, he said.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up within weeks. For some, especially older adults and those with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, even death.

Stay with News 2 for continuing coverage of the COVID-19 Pandemic.

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