Kentucky will return to full capacity everywhere and fully lifts its mask mandate in less than a month, ending more than a year of COVID-19-related restrictions, Gov. Andy Beshear announced on Friday.
“We will return to 100% capacity for all venues and events in exactly one month, on June 11 . . . [and] life will be almost fully back to normal,” the governor said in a live update. That day, the state will also rescind its mask mandate for everyone, including those who are unvaccinated, “with the exceptions of places where people are the most vulnerable,” he said.
Beshear is waiting a month to fully lift those restrictions to allow time for adolescents ages 12-15 to get vaccinated. That age group was given the green light by federal health agencies earlier this week to receive the Pfizer-BioNTech shot, and most vaccination sites in Kentucky just began administering doses to those teens on Thursday.
“One months also gives notice and time to everyone else who has not yet received their [dose],” Beshear said.
The news follows a Thursday announcement — first from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and then from Beshear — that it’s safe for people who are inoculated against COVID-19 to immediately forgo wearing masks and social distancing in most indoor and outdoor settings. Exceptions include health care and congregate settings such as nursing homes and correctional facilities, and public transportation like planes, trains and buses. These same exceptions will apply in a month, when Kentucky fully lifts its coronavirus restrictions. Masks, for instance, will still be required in K-12 schools, pre-schools and other child care settings.
Otherwise, the nationwide repeal on Thursday of the mask requirement for fully vaccinated people will affect roughly 43% of Kentuckians, or the nearly 1.9 million people have already received their doses. For those who aren’t yet inoculated, the shift in guidance should compel them to get their shot, he said.
“This is great news, and it should also be a compelling motivation to get vaccinated,” said Beshear, who acknowledged that people who insist on not getting a vaccine will continue to put themselves at risk if they remove their mask in public places.
“Let’s be clear: a return to full capacity could raise the risk of exposure to those not vaccinated,” he said. “But the solution is to get your vaccine.”
The transition back to normal may be piecemeal in some places. Businesses, for instance, still have the option of requiring patrons to wear masks indoors. Likewise, some may need time before they’re comfortable shedding their mask in a grocery store.
Even though people who are vaccinated against COVID-19 face only a slim risk of contracting the virus and an even smaller chance of developing a severe infection, after a year of being told to wear a mask in public, many may need time to feel comfortable without a mask, Beshear acknowledged. And that’s OK.
“I’ve found myself pulling my mask out in the last day or two. I still have it on me,” he said, admitting that he will probably still wear a mask in “crowded settings,” even though, as a fully-vaccinated individual, he faces little risk.
Kentucky Public Health Commissioner Steven Stack asked for people to give one another grace as they acclimate to this new mentality.
“It’s going to take some time for people to get used to again returning to what we used to do before all of this started,” Stack said.
The last year has been long and arduous, and though it may be hard to believe, life will soon return to normal. “It does feel like there’s a new day dawning. It’s been a long, hard journey,” he said. “We want to enjoy seeing one anothers’ smiling faces again.”