After months of Netflix binges, puzzles and general anxiety about the state of the world, many Kentuckians are ready to get outside and rejoin their communities.
But staying in the proverbial outside will require cooperation from citizens to prevent surges of the novel coronavirus.
More than half of U.S. states are experiencing spikes in cases, with 10 states last week reporting their highest seven-day average of new cases per day since the crisis began, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
Kentucky began incrementally reopening the economy last month, with most businesses now open to the public. Next week, bars will welcome limited patrons and gatherings of 50 people will be allowed.
The Commonwealth has remained mostly stable this month but reported an increase in daily cases this week from the previous week, according to Johns Hopkins data.
State epidemiologists are continuing to closely monitor cases, according to Susan Dunlap, public affairs executive director at the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services.
“COVID-19 is a dangerous and opportunistic virus, and everyone is asked to do their part to help protect others and to look after our own personal health,” Dunlap said in an email. “As Governor Beshear, Dr. Steven Stack and others remind us, it is important to be vigilant and to avoid becoming lax.”
It is possible to contain the virus without shutting down the economy, according to Gary Wilson, an infectious disease specialist at Owensboro Health Regional Hospital, if people choose to follow the health guidelines.
“If you don’t want coronavirus, or to give it to someone else, then wear a mask and practice social distancing,” Wilson said.
The physical distance of social distancing is especially important, according to Aaron Yelowitz, an economist at the University of Kentucky who has been researching the subject.
People living or working in cramped conditions — such as nursing homes, correctional facilities and meatpacking plants — have faced higher risks of contracting the virus.
“The more people human beings interact with each other the more the coronavirus can spread,” said Yelowitz, who recently co-authored a study in Health Affairs demonstrating the shutdown’s effectiveness in bending the curve of infections and fatalities.
For many Kentuckians, the pandemic might seem distant,” Yelowitz said. “Folks that have not witnessed fatalities or known people that suffered significant health consequences might conclude incorrectly that the virus is not dangerous. “The mentality becomes ‘this doesn’t apply to me.'”
The divisiveness coupled with the understandable fatigue felt by Americans might dilute the worth of a future lockdown, according to Yelowitz.
“Given what we’ve seen since states have been opening up, it seems very unlikely to me that states could have another lockdown that could be as effective,” he said. “Basically, we had our one shot.”
There may not be any clear paths moving forward, but the experts agree a new “norm” of wearing masks, practicing good hygiene and maintaining social distance will help flatten the curve.