FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky's governor on Monday strongly urged school boards to maintain their pandemic-related mask mandates, warning that relaxing the requirements would jeopardize recent declines statewide in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.

“The first thing that would pop these numbers back up is if we came off universal masking in schools,” Gov. Andy Beshear said at a news conference.

Maintaining local policies requiring students and employees to wear masks at school is the best way to keep schools open by reducing the spread of COVID-19, the Democratic governor said. Masks protect school staffs and students at a time when the threat for the virus persists, he said.

“I'm very concerned that there are some districts that are considering or may have already let up when they're still” in areas with higher levels of community spread of COVID-19, Beshear said.

Last month, school boards across the Bluegrass State voted overwhelmingly to keep masks on students and staffs while at school, at a time when virus cases were surging.

Meanwhile, the governor on Monday reported ongoing declines in the statewide number of coronavirus cases and virus-related hospitalizations and admissions to intensive care units. The rate of Kentuckians testing positive for the coronavirus also continued to drop, he said.

“Just about everything is moving in the right direction," Beshear said.

But COVID-19 deaths remain far too high, he said. The governor reported 103 virus-related in Kentucky between Saturday and Monday.

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