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Kentucky officials don’t wait for surge of coronavirus cases to tighten restrictions

Kentucky officials don’t wait for surge of coronavirus cases to tighten restrictions

Each evening for the past 32 years, Greg Fischer has shared the details of his day with his wife. But for nearly two weeks, the Louisville, Kentucky, mayor has had those conversations with her through a closed door, standing outside their guest bedroom.

That’s become the couple’s routine since Fischer’s wife, Dr. Alexandra Gerassimides, contracted COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

In their nightly conversations over the past week, Fischer has described his growing alarm that some Louisville residents were not taking the outbreak seriously. Last Monday, Fischer told her that his staff had spotted groups of people playing sports and pushing their children on swings in the city’s parks — defying social distancing recommendations.

“I told her I’m thinking about shutting down the basketball courts and the playgrounds,” Fischer, 62, recalled.

The mayor knew the restrictions might not be popular. Kentucky’s coronavirus-linked deaths remain in the single digits, and it’s been a challenge to communicate the urgency to some inconvenienced residents. But Fischer — along with Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear and some other mayors and local officials across the state — has been determined to curb the virus’ transmission before it reaches levels seen in harder-hit states like New York. Kentucky has closed schools and shuttered dine-in restaurants, and Fischer has gone even further in Louisville, based on his concerns about the parks.

Full coverage of the coronavirus outbreak

As testing capabilities increase, he and other officials want to be prepared for a surge of new cases. He worries that could overwhelm the state’s struggling health care system, which has faced public health budget cuts and rising pension costs in recent years. Like many other states, Kentucky is also facing a shortage of personal protective equipment.

So, on Tuesday afternoon, Fischer ordered the closure of playgrounds, basketball courts and soccer fields in Louisville’s 120 parks.

“I hated to do it,” said Fischer, who also extended the city’s state of emergency to May 10. “But so many people aren’t taking social distancing seriously, either because they don’t understand it or are just blowing it off completely.”

Despite increased restrictions and public health guidance to practice social distancing, Kentucky has seen examples of people flouting the rules and recommendations. Earlier this month, a congregant at a southern Kentucky church tested positive for the coronavirus after the church defied Beshear’s suggestion to cancel Sunday services, according to local news reports.

Last week, Beshear criticized a group of young adults who held a “coronavirus party”; one attendee later contracted the virus. The frustration of watching residents continue to socialize led one Kentucky mayor to post an expletive-filled rant on Facebook urging people to stay home.

As of Saturday, Kentucky had five coronavirus-related deaths and 394 confirmed cases — far fewer than the worst-hit regions of the country, and state and local officials are determined to keep it that way.

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