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Kentucky governor relaxing virus-related capacity limits

May 6, 2021 GMT

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear on Thursday laid out the next phase for relaxing pandemic-related restrictions and said he hopes to lift any remaining capacity limits on gatherings this summer.

“We’re very close to the end of this,” the Democratic governor said.

Starting May 28, Kentucky businesses and events with fewer than 1,000 people will be allowed to operate at 75% capacity, Beshear said. That standard applies to indoor and outdoor gatherings.

Also, any indoor and outdoor events drawing more than 1,000 people will be able to operate at 60% capacity, also starting May 28, the governor said.

The timing is based largely on making it a priority for students to finish the academic year in school while recognizing that COVID-19 “is not done with us,” he said.

“We have to make sure we continue sacrificing a little bit longer so that our kids can get through school,” the governor said at a news conference.

Capacity is currently limited to 60% at Bluegrass State events with fewer than 1,000 people and 50% at events or spaces with more than 1,000 people.

Beshear also announced that small groups gathered indoors at businesses or homes are no longer required to wear masks if everyone present is fully vaccinated. The change takes effect immediately.

Meanwhile, Beshear sounded upbeat about fully lifting virus-related capacity restrictions this summer, noting that federal health officials are projecting a sharp decline in COVID-19 cases by July.

“I’m hoping we’ll be fully done with all capacity restrictions by July,” the governor said. “That is my expectation. We don’t have to be patient for that much longer, but we do have to finish our work and protect the people around us.”

Some Kentucky Republicans have tried to ramp up pressure on the Democratic governor to set a date for fully reopening the state.

“Kentuckians have had enough of Gov. Beshear’s political posturing and gamesmanship on reopening,” state GOP Chairman Mac Brown said in a statement earlier Thursday.

State Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles, a potential GOP candidate for governor in 2023, said Thursday that Beshear “should have already lifted restrictions or should have set a full reopening date at the very least.”

Beshear has said he will seek a second term in 2023. Throughout the pandemic, he has emphasized that his virus-related decisions have been focused on protecting lives.

“Let’s just get people vaccinated and we can be done,” the governor said Thursday.

More than 1.8 million Kentuckians have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine — slightly more than half the statewide population age 16 and older, the governor said. But the state’s vaccination rate has slowed in recent weeks. The state has plenty of available vaccine, he said.

“Please, treat your neighbor as yourself,” Beshear said. “Get vaccinated to protect everybody around you.”

Beshear had previously said that once 2.5 million Kentuckians receive at least their first COVID-19 shot, he would lift capacity and physical distancing restrictions for nearly all businesses, venues and events catering to 1,000 or fewer patrons.

Anyone 16 or older is eligible to receive the vaccine in Kentucky.

Meanwhile, the governor reported 655 new coronavirus cases statewide and six more virus-related deaths Thursday. The statewide rate of positive cases was 3.51%.

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Find AP’s full coverage of the coronavirus pandemic at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic.