LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- At times becoming emotional, Gov. Andy Beshear gave what he called his "last official briefing" centered on the COVID-19 crisis in Kentucky Friday afternoon -- a pandemic that took the lives of more than 7,100 Kentucky residents.
"While COVID remains a threat, we are no longer in crisis," Beshear said.
Praising the vaccine and the "hard-won knowledge" of how to defeat the virus, Beshear officially lifted the state's controversial mask mandate, as well as capacity restrictions for restaurants and bars to operate.
Noting that he had held 250 COVID-focused news conferences since Feb. 2020 through June 11, 2021, Beshear touted what he said were the accomplishments, both of his own administration and of Kentucky residents.
"More than once, we held multiple COVID briefings on the same day," he said.
Beshear likened the fight against COVID-19 to "a war that has taken more Kentuckians than any other war that we have been through."
The governor drew upon his Christian faith, citing the "two greatest commandments" in Christianity, to "love your God with all your heart and soul and love your neighbor as yourself." He praised healthcare workers, the National Guard, police officers, firefighters, public health officials, faith leaders and local officials as examples of people who fulfilled that mandate, stepping up and serving during the crisis.
"That's what kept us motivated -- seeing the goodness in one another," he said.
He also praised his own leadership during the pandemic.
"I think people have seen me and they know at my core, I very deeply care for the people of the Commonwealth," he said. He said his decisions and mandates were consistent with "always siding with the science" and referred to them as "strong decisive measures that also were restrained in scope."
He said the "hardest thing I've ever done" was the daily readings of the numbers, ages and counties of residence of the people who died from the virus. He added that he could have assigned that task to someone else, but he didn't want them to bear the burden of doing so.
Without naming names, Beshear also took the opportunity to chastise some of his political opponents, accusing them of "lying to people about basic science and facts." He added that, "political ambition" is not an "excuse" to "denigrate" the memories of those who have died from the disease.
Accomplishments aside, Beshear admitted that he does have some regrets about the way he handled the response.
"Certainly when you look back, there were things that we didn't know, that we wish we had known," he said. Among those regrets, he said, was a lack of knowledge about the effectiveness of masks early on in the pandemic, both statewide and as a country.
Beshear made a brief reference to his push for "two weeks to flatten the curve," in the early days of the pandemic, noting that it would "take longer than any two weeks that we looked at to flatten the curve."
"Generally, in the beginning, we thought that this wouldn't last as long as it has," Beshear said, lamenting that, "we needed to prepare ourselves for that."
As the state moves forward from the pandemic, the governor announced that a memorial would be placed on State Capitol grounds to remember the more than 7,100 Kentucky residents who have died from the virus, as well as to celebrate the sacrifices of healthcare workers and others who battled the disease. He said artistic proposals have already been collected and are currently being reviewed, but the memorial still needs to be funded.
"We’ll have plenty of time to raise the dollars that need to be raised, but we’re excited" about reviewing the proposals, he said.
He added that original estimates predicted that the Commonwealth would lose as many as 80,000 residents to the virus.
Even though he touted Friday afternoon's news conference as the last official COVID-focused presser, Beshear cautioned that the virus is still out there. And he added that some people will continue to wear masks.
"Wear your mask until you're comfortable taking it off," he said. "We've all been through a decent amount of trauma, so let's be patient with one another and give each other the time and space that we need."
Beshear ended the news conference with a nod to Virginia Moore, the sign language interpreter who has become a local celebrity over the past year.
"Virginia, this is our very last one. Thank you all."
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