Gov. Andy Beshear

FRANKFORT, Ky. (WDRB) -- As COVID-19 cases rise again in Kentucky, Governor Andy Beshear is not ruling out a new mask mandate.

"We're not going to be afraid to make the tough decision if it's merited," Beshear told reporters during a briefing at the Capitol.

With roughly half of Kentuckians unvaccinated, Beshear said COVID cases are rising once again because of the more contagious Delta variant.

The Public Health Commissioner said the positivity rate is approaching 7%, up from less than 2% several weeks ago. He said 95% of the cases are in those who are unvaccinated.

Beshear is recommending masking and social distancing in some situations but does not plan to issue new mandates for now.

"Oh, I think if we have to take steps to save lives, we're going to do them," he said. "We've had the courage to do what's necessary to date. But I want to make sure I'm clear that the world is very different now as opposed to what it was before, so our decision calculus will be very different."

Beshear said he will be watching hospitalizations, deaths and so-called breakthrough cases - infections among those who have already been vaccinated.

But the governor said the availability of the vaccine makes mandates less necessary than during the height of the pandemic.

"The fact now that people can protect themselves significantly from the Delta variant simply by getting a vaccine does change the equation," he said.

With children returning to class in less than a month, Beshear said he is meeting this week with the Department of Education to discuss what he called "some difficult questions" about guidelines for schools.

"I see a whole lot of people gearing up because they want to have some fight about this. But the basic facts are if you want your kids to be in school every day of the next year, the only way to make sure that happens is to get them vaccinated or make sure there are other protections in place," Beshear said.

Beshear gave no specifics on possible updates to the school Covid-19 guidance. He is planning another COVID update on July 26.

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