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Gov. Andy Beshear on Thursday called on the private sector to enforce COVID-19 vaccine mandates in workplaces, in yet another attempt to convince more people to get inoculated as the virus rages across Kentucky.
“I think the fact is clear that with private-sector leadership, we see more individuals getting vaccinated that we otherwise could not reach as state government,” the governor said during a coronavirus update in the state Capitol. He was joined by leaders of nine health care and hospital systems across Kentucky, each of whom advocated for vaccine requirements among health care workers.
“This is not a political statement. This is what is right for the lives of the good people of the commonwealth,” said Donald H. Lloyd, president of St. Claire Healthcare in Morehead.
This unified call to action comes as coronavirus tightens its grip on Kentucky. By the end of the day Wednesday, the rate of Kentuckians who tested positive for the virus had exceeded 10%, and the state reported 2,583 new cases — the most since February 3. Beshear said he expects to announce more than 2,000 new cases by the end of the day Thursday and a positivity rate of 10.27%.
“We are not moving in the right direction,” he said, reiterating that his administration recommends universal masking indoors across the state, regardless of vaccination status.
“No matter where you are in Kentucky right now, if you’re going indoors with people outside of your home, put on that mask again,” he said. “It’s not forever, it’s just for now.”
At least a dozen health care systems in the state have just this week announced they will institute a vaccine mandate for all staff:
Appalachian Regional Healthcare
CHI Saint Joseph
Pikeville Medical Center
St. Claire Healthcare
King’s Daughters Health System
Mercy Health — Lourdes Hospital
Med Center Health
St. Elizabeth Healthcare
Staff at these facilities are required to get their first shot by September 15. State health care associations, including the Kentucky Hospital Association, Kentucky Nurses Association, Kentucky Medical Association, have also unanimously endorsed vaccine requirements for all of Kentucky’s health care personnel.
“KHA, KMA and KNA support hospitals and health care systems amending their existing vaccine policies to require COVID-19 vaccines for their health care employees,” one of the statements read.
Kentucky Public Health Commissioner Steven Stack threw his support behind this call for vaccine requirements among health care workers.
“Every health care worker should be vaccinated,” Stack said. “We treat this virus casually and cavalierly at our own peril.”
Beshear lauded the new requirements, calling on other private sector businesses to do the same.
“Other companies should follow the lead that we’re seeing here today, of doing everything they can, including [vaccine] requirements to get people vaccinated,” he said. “We’re going to support each and every one of them that do.”
As an incentive to get the shot, Beshear said any staff member who works in the executive branch of state government will be awarded an additional vacation day if they show proof of vaccination. “This is an incentive so you can spend more time with your family doing what you want to do for doing the right thing,” he said, calling on other constitutional offices to do the same.
As K-12 school districts prepare to return to in-person instruction this month — some of which are opting against public health advice by not enforcing universal masking among students and staff — it’s against the backdrop of swelling case numbers in children and teenagers. Nearly four-times as many children and teenagers were diagnosed with coronavirus across the state in July compared with June, Beshear said.
In June, 1,197 kids under age 18 tested positive compared with 4,165 cases in July. The same trend is reflected in children under age 11: in June 534 children 11 and younger tested positive compared with 2,092 in July.
“Your kids are not a proxy for a political battle,” Beshear said. “We need to make sure parents are making good decisions for their kids.”