Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear on Friday declared his state’s deadly fight against COVID-19 a “success story” as he ended most pandemic restrictions, and said his state lessened the crisis because Kentuckians ultimately put science ahead of politics.
The Democratic governor, who confronted protests, lawsuits and impeachment petitions over his virus-related executive actions, expressed frustration that mask mandates meant to slow the virus’ spread became a “question of liberty.”
Bringing the coronavirus under control required collective efforts of Democrats and Republicans, offering a lesson to move beyond the partisan strife that “can just be toxic,” Beshear said in an interview with The Associated Press, the first sitdown interview he’s given in person in more than a year.
Shortly before announcing he was lifting capacity restrictions for restaurants, bars and other public venues, Beshear said the pandemic was “a test of our humanity” and posed “the single deadliest threat” of his lifetime. Kentucky’s virus-related death toll has surpassed 7,000.
“When you look at our response, I think you see a success story and that’s obviously comparative and based on what could have happened,” the governor said.
Kentucky “beat back” three surges of infection without having its hospitals overrun with virus patients, Beshear said. The rollout of vaccinations was “pretty successful,” with more than 2.1 million Kentuckians having received at least one dose of vaccine, he said.
“We know that our actions saved thousands, likely tens of thousands of lives,” he said later at his last media briefing focused on the “crisis phase of COVID in the commonwealth.”
Republican got in more digs at the governor as he was removing most remaining restrictions.
State Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles said Beshear had governed by “executive fiat” throughout the pandemic, and that Kentucky’s reopening lagged behind many other states. Quarles is a potential challenger to Beshear in 2023 when the governor has said he will seek a second term.