|Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear talked about COVID, the economy, vaccines and the road ahead at a recent Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce Government Forum.|
by Robin Gee
Coming at the end of the country’s first week of vaccine distributions, COVID relief was a central topic of an online presentation by Governor Andy Beshear for members of the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce Government Forum on Friday, December 18.
The tone of the forum was somber in parts as the governor laid out particulars of the toll the Corona virus pandemic has taken on Kentucky, but overall it took a hopeful note as the he announced the arrival and deployment of vaccines as well as great news about the Brent Spence Bridge, job creation in the state and other promising signs of recovery on the horizon.
Celebrating the vaccines
While he shared some sobering statistics about the virus’s impact on Kentuckians, the governor began with the announcement that the Moderna vaccine, the second of two very powerful vaccines had been approved and was set to be delivered this week.
"This week has been incredible, with our first vaccines delivered," he said, "They have been a shot of hope, and they mark the beginning of the end of the pandemic. In 2021, we will defeat the Corona virus."
He thanked the front-line health care workers who have been our first line of defense and comfort throughout the pandemic and praised them for setting an example as they "roll up their sleeves" to take the vaccine.
Summing up the impact of the pandemic
The vaccines were welcome news, but could not come soon enough, he said. He noted the sacrifice and suffering the disease has caused all of us. The virus has infected more than 239,000 Kentuckians and more than 2,300 have died across the state.
On last Thursday alone, he said, 54 Kentuckians had died making it the deadliest day since the start of the pandemic. As of Friday, 64 residents of Kenton County, 22 from Campbell County and 35 from Boone County had lost their lives to the virus.
In addition, the pandemic has wrecked havoc on the economy, damaging businesses and creating record job loss across the country, he added.
Noting how far we’ve come
The governor thanked the business leaders who have stepped up to help and do whatever it takes to defeat the virus. He is certain, he said, that things might have been far worse if that had not happened. He said he believes the actions of the business community contributed to the state’s success in keeping the tremendous spikes of infections seen in other states at bay.
He recalled the early days of the pandemic and the struggle to get testing in place and to secure personal protective equipment. He said he is very proud of how far we have come and listed several noteworthy accomplishments:
- The "Kroger testing partnership" originated in Kentucky and is now the national model across the country for surge testing.
- The state has a 120-day stockpile of PPE and has distributed more than 18 million pieces of PPE across the state.
- More than 100 companies donated or produced PPE to help fill the need.
- The governor singled out Northern Kentucky’s own Gravity Diagnostics for stepping up to provide the vital need for testing across the state.
- Data gathering and distribution of information has improved dramatically.
- The state distributed 1.6 billion in CARES Act funding, which included a $40 million food and beverage relief fund for that industry.
- From the CARES Act funds, the state set aside $298 million to pay benefits and improve the unemployment system in the state, as well as $200 to 300 million to help repay the federal unemployment insurance loan.
Growing the economy even in the worst climate
Acknowledging the toll the virus has taken on the economy, Beshear also touted some notable accomplishments even during these dark times. More than 270 economic development projects are underway across the state, totaling $2.56 billion in investment by private sector companies. The effort promises 8,700 full-time jobs with the second highest average wage in the state’s history, the governor said.
Two examples in the region he noted were Protective Life Insurance’s move of its regional headquarters from Cincinnati to the River Center in Covington, bringing with it 255 jobs and a $17.1 million investment. Technology engineering business Step CG LLC announced its plans to expand to Kenton County in February, bringing another 83 high paying jobs to the area.
The governor noted that Covington has added 2,100 new jobs and boasted $86 million in private investment this past year, and plans are underway for a large project on 23 acres near the city’s downtown.
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Investing in infrastructure and innovation
In this year, the state completed several new road projects and more bridge projects than any other year in the state’s history, the governor said. Projects included restoration of 104 bridges and construction of 25 new bridges.
Among these, of course, is the successful repair of the Brent Spence Bridge reopening on time this week. He commended Transportation Cabinet Secretary Jim Gray and state workers on the project, as well Ohio Governor Mike DeWine and his team.
Infrastructure support and improving access across the state is key to growth, the governor said. These steps help open the door for more innovation, a key to growth in the economy as we move forward.
The governor laid out some of his vision for innovation for the future. "This is the vision we have to have right now. Innovation in every sector of our economy means we can grow together, attract more investment and lead in a post-COVID economy. While this has been a tough, unprecedented year, we continue to move forward."
Looking toward the next legislative session
The governor had a message for Kentucky legislators. Now is not the time for partisan wrangling. It is a time for bold moves and courageous decision making, he said. He listed his plans for focus for 2021:
- Investing in education, especially post-secondary
- Investing in infrastructure, addressing our transportation budget
- Focusing on new, high wage jobs, not just any job
- Passing sports betting and medical marijuana
- Modernizing government to create better access
- Finding a bipartisan solution to allow historical horse racing to continue in the state
- Growing our reputation as the nation’s agritech capital
- Expanding broadband for education and telehealth
- Protecting affordable care act, not allowing any restriction of access for basic health care
- Addressing the state’s antiquated unemployment insurance system. The governor said he is committed to contributing to the unemployment insurance trust fund, and adding money to the rainy day fund.
More news on the vaccine front
Questions for the governor circled back to the topic of the vaccine. Asked how phase one is going and what phase two will look like, the governor said phase one, in which front-line health care workers and long-term care residents and staff receive the vaccine, will last until the first few weeks of January.
How quickly and how far we can go will depend on how many and when shipments of the vaccine arrive in the state, he said.
Garren Colvin, president and CEO of St. Elizabeth Healthcare, noted the healthcare system is still waiting on some of the expected supply of the vaccine. Health care staff with direct patient contact are in the process of receiving the vaccine. The remaining staff will be vaccinated as soon as more supplies are available, he said.
In the meantime, vaccination of long-term care residents and staff is underway. This population accounts for 66 percent of the mortalities in the state. The federal government is still discussing how to approach phase two and may go with an age-based distribution. If that happens, said the governor, it would cover another significant portion of the population that contribute to the mortality rate. Those age 70 and above not in long-term care have a 10 percent mortality rate, and that equals to about 25 percent of the state’s COVID deaths, he said.
The governor called the vaccines "a Christmas miracle." It’s been a long hard road, and we are not out of the woods, yet, he said, but for the first time in months hope is on the horizon.