Judge rules against Kentucky governor on Florence Speedway, other COVID-19 orders

Amid spiking rates of COVID-19 in Kentucky, a state appeals judge has rejected efforts by Gov. Andy Beshear to block two lower court rulings that limit his ability to order restrictions on crowds in public and class sizes at day care centers.

Acknowledging that COVID-19 causes “severe respiratory illness and, in some cases, leads to death,” Judge Glenn Acree nonetheless on Monday upheld two lower court rulings that struck down Beshear’s executive orders limiting crowd sizes at the Florence Speedway racetrack, class sizes at day cares and crowds at “pick-your-own” family farms and event centers.

Acree, in upholding rulings from Boone and Scott circuit courts, acknowledged the risks of COVID-19, which has killed 629 Kentuckians and infected more than 19,000. But in his 25-page opinion and order, he cited another consideration: “the wisdom and common sense of Kentuckians.”

“Kentuckians have taken measures they believe must be taken to protect themselves, those they know and love and those they are yet to meet,” Acree wrote. “And by their innate wisdom and common sense, they succeeded in keeping Kentucky ranked among states with the lowest per capita incidence of coronavirus.”

The ruling does not affect a separate order Beshear issued Thursday directing most Kentuckians to wear face masks in public places such as stores, bars or other places where people gather.

That order by Beshear, a Democrat, took effect Friday at 5 p.m. It is under challenge by Republican Attorney General Daniel Cameron, who also sought to join in the lawsuits against Beshear in Scott and Boone counties.

Cameron, who is challenging Beshear’s mask order in Scott Circuit Court, said at a press conference Monday that he believes it should be a choice.

“I think Kentuckians, as we look for ways to protect our neighbors, individually are able to make an assessment about wearing a mask and social distancing and what have you,” Cameron said. “So I think it’s important that we each have an opportunity of our own volition to make that choice.”

Health officials have said masks are most effective when worn by the most number of people in public areas to protect themselves and others from the virus.

“It is essential that we use these masks,” Dr. Steven Stack, Kentucky’s public health commissioner, said at a news conference Monday. “If you get close to people, it spreads.”

Beshear said Monday he wants a final resolution on the various legal challenges as soon as possible.

“We are going to get this thing up to the Supreme Court,” he said. “I think we need legal certainty.”

On Monday, Beshear’s office expressed alarm about Acree’s order, saying it would lead to further growth of the highly contagious virus by lifting other restrictions on day cares, farms and other venues.

“When the United States is seeing record numbers of positive COVID-19 cases every day, and states like Texas have multiple reports from child care facilities of staff and children sick with the virus, now is not the time to ignore guidance from health care experts,” Beshear said in a statement. “Right now, 500-plus businesses can operate without any safety requirements, including even handwashing, and day cares can decide to have class sizes that are not safe. Kentucky is already experiencing increasing cases and this ruling means we will see more spread of the virus.”

Acree’s order declines to provide temporary relief to Beshear, who had asked the court orders from Scott and Boone counties be lifted. But it is subject to further review by a three-judge panel from the state Appeals Court.

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