FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear ordered the closure of theaters, gyms, hair salons and many other businesses where people gather, taking new action in a bid to contain the new coronavirus.
Beshear’s order, which takes effect by 5 p.m. Wednesday, exempts a cross-section of businesses that will be allowed to stay open. The exempted list includes grocery stores, banks, pharmacies, health care facilities, gas stations, hardware stores and hotels.
The governor acknowledged the latest closures will disrupt daily lives. But he said it’s necessary to deter the virus and protect the most vulnerable people.
“These are all places that people congregation, and it’s another step that we have to take to make sure that everybody’s sacrifice works,” Beshear said.
Beshear’s order follows previous steps that resulted in the temporary closure of K-12 schools and senior centers, and strict restrictions on visits to nursing homes. He also ordered that bars and restaurants close dine-in services.
Kentucky’s K-12 schools shut down for at least two weeks at the governor’s request. He signaled Tuesday that schools may remain closed longer than that.
“We ought to be prepared to go longer than that,” he said. “I would ask everybody to begin to make the preparations.”
Twenty-six virus cases have been reported in Kentucky, the governor said in his daily update Tuesday. The virus has spread to Lyon County with one case reported in the western Kentucky county, he said. The virus has been linked to one death in the state.
For most people, coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. The vast majority of people recover from the new virus.
Beshear’s new order Tuesday applies to businesses unable to comply with public health guidelines on social distancing to help contain spread of the virus.
Those businesses ordered to temporarily close Wednesday include entertainment and recreational facilities, community and recreation centers, gyms and exercise facilities, hair and nail salons, spas, concert venues, theaters and sporting event facilities, Beshear said.
The order includes a long list of exempted businesses that can stay open because “they are critical as we move forward,” he said.
They include food processing, agriculture, industrial manufacturing, feed mills, construction, trash collection, retail, grocery and consumer goods, auto repair, pharmacy and other medical facilities, post offices, insurance, banks, gas stations, home repair-hardware, veterinarian clinics, pet stores, laundromats, warehousing, storage and distribution, public transportation and hotels.
Those exempted businesses need to follow social distancing guidelines, he stressed.
Meanwhile, Kentucky’s phone line and website for filing unemployment insurance claims were not functioning Tuesday, the Lexington Herald-Leader reported. The errors come amid a spike in unemployment claims, from an average of 2,000 claims a week before the virus outbreak to 9,000 claims processed on Tuesday alone, it reported.
“I know our unemployment website crashed today,” Beshear said. “We’ll have it back up. We’ll get to you. We will make sure that you get those benefits. … Just stick with us.”
Also on Tuesday, the University of Kentucky and Western Kentucky University said it has canceled in-person classes for the remainder of the spring semester.
UK, the state’s flagship university, and Western announced they will shift to online or alternative formats for classroom instruction for the rest of the semester. UK had already switched to online instruction for the two weeks following this week’s spring break, and Western announced earlier it would make the switch after its expanded spring break ends this week.
The extension was among a series of decisions announced Tuesday by UK President Eli Capilouto. Students were “strongly encouraged” to return to off-campus homes to continue their studies remotely for the rest of the semester. UK’s commencement was postponed and will be rescheduled.
“We have a responsibility to do everything we can to stem the tide of this disease,” Capilouto said.
Western’s spring commencement events were also postponed, and students who can go home were encouraged to do so.
“Rest assured we will celebrate appropriately and honor our students’ extraordinary work and achievements at a future date,” Western President Timothy Caboni said in a message to the university community. “We will confer degrees in May, ensuring students graduate on time and are prepared to enter the workforce or continue into their graduate work as planned.”
Meanwhile, Mammoth Cave National Park said it will temporarily suspend cave tours and close the visitor center starting Wednesday in response to the virus. The visitors centers to the Abraham Lincoln Birthplace in Hodgenville and the Camp Nelson National Monument in Nicholasville closed visitor centers to the public but is keeping outdoor areas open.
The Muhammad Ali Center in Louisville also said it would close temporarily due to the spreading virus.