Gov. Andy Beshear

Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear speaks during a briefing on the COVID-19 pandemic on Wednesday, July 22, in Frankfort, KY. 

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Coronavirus cases in Kentucky are "still escalating," Gov. Andy Beshear said on Wednesday as the state reported 518 new infections.

The uptick in confirmed cases in recent days will likely mean a "significant increase" in deaths from the virus in the coming weeks, Beshear said. As of Wednesday, 677 Kentuckians have died of the virus, according to state statistics. 

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Beshear announced no new public health restrictions on Wednesday. But if the uptick continues, he said, he may need to reduce capacity in restaurants to 25% and close bars — moves that Beshear said are suggested by the White House's guidelines.

"We don’t want to do it,” Beshear said. " ... If you like your favorite restaurant like I do, wear a mask."

Beshear said another concern is that the state’s positivity rate, or the percentage of positive test results over the last seven days, is on the rise. According to state health officials, roughly 2% of Kentuckians being tested in May were coming back positive for the virus. The rate was 4.92% on Wednesday, Beshear said.

"What it says is that it's spreading more aggressively in Kentucky — more than it was 14 days ago," the governor said. 

The rate would seem to be higher based on Kentucky's publicly reported figures, and external data-crunchers like the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center have Kentucky's positivity rate at 7.2%.

The Beshear administration on Wednesday declined to give the numbers the state health department uses in calculating the rate, directing a reporter to file a public records request.

"We’ll continue to be accountable and transparent and share how we calculate things, but I and the department I oversee at the Kentucky Department for Public Health are the repository for the official data on COVID-19 for the state of Kentucky, and I don’t know how all the other sites calculate their numbers or why they vary," said Kentucky health commissioner Dr. Steven Stack during Beshear's media briefing. "The official numbers come from the state of Kentucky."

Beshear did not provide exact numbers during his briefing but said more young people in Kentucky are testing positive.

"The under 40, if you will, has gone up to a greater percentage when I look at it of our overall positives," he said, adding that there is also an increase in positive tests in children under 5 years old. 

According to a report from Kentucky Public Health, 603 people are hospitalized with COVID-19 around the state, and 145 patients are being treated in intensive care units. At least 7,000 individuals have recovered from the respiratory disease. 

Beshear, a Democrat, also applauded the Republican governors of Indiana and Ohio for issuing face-mask orders on Wednesday, an action Beshear took earlier this month.

"The fact that two neighboring states are also doing it should make Kentucky's response more effective," he said. "... It should show you that there is no political division in what is the right public health response."

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