To borrow from airline ads, Hopkins Countians are now free to move about the country. But the Kentucky State Police will watch carefully today, if you do.
“We’re not trying to be mean,” Trooper Rob Austin said Thursday. “We want people to stay as safe as possible.”
Right on time for Memorial Day weekend, Gov. Andy Beshear is removing a ban on most out-of-state travel. It was imposed in late March to stop the spread of the coronavirus, especially from visits to Tennessee.
But also right on time, the KSP today begins Operation C.A.R.E. — a “Crash Awareness Reduction Effort” through Monday.
“There’s a correlation between a holiday and an increased number of crashes,” Austin said.
It’s a nationwide effort along interstate and U.S. highways to enforce traffic laws. Austin said the focus will be on the basics, such as speeding, buckling seat belts and keeping children in safety seats.
“We don’t have a ton of troopers,” Austin said, when it comes to enforcing the rules. “Everyone normally on the schedule will be working.”
Madisonville police spokesman Andrew Rush said Thursday that the force has nothing “special” planned for the weekend.
“We continually look for impaired drivers any time there is a holiday weekend,” Rush said.
At first, Beshear scheduled an end to his travel restrictions for Monday. But he moved the date up to the start of Memorial Day weekend, admitting many people would go on the road early anyway.
Exactly how many drivers will do that is uncertain. AAA did not issue its traditional Memorial Day travel projection for the first time in 20 years, but in a statement predicted a “record low” travel volume.
That’s not the only coronavirus clamp coming off today. Diners will be allowed to eat inside Kentucky restaurants for the first time in two months. Seating will be limited to 33% capacity inside, with no limits outside.
The Hopkins County Health Department had more good news Thursday when it comes to containing the virus. Seven more patients were considered “recovered,” moving that total to 159.
The Health Department reported during the morning that other numbers were unchanged, with 217 confirmed cases and 27 deaths. Beshear announced one new case during his late-afternoon briefing.
The Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services revised its numbers higher for Ridgewood Terrace Nursing Home Thursday. One death was added, putting that total at 23. The number of infected patients went up by 13 to 74, with 22 virus-positive staff members.
Local leaders now must compute how much COVID-19 is costing their governments. They’ll submit applications to Frankfort for some of the $300 million in grant money available from the federal Coronavirus Relief Fund.
“They’re strictly reimbursements,” Hopkins County Judge-Executive Jack Whitfield Jr. said Thursday. Counties and cities can be paid for things ranging from personal protective equipment to employee overtime.
“It’s not been really high,” Whitfield said, but he didn’t have an estimate on how much the county has spent concerning the virus. He plans to meet with department heads to “make sure we’re capturing everything.”
The challenge with the request is that some of it may have to be estimated. Whitfield said the grants are for expenditures through Wednesday, Dec. 30.
In other new developments Thursday related to COVID-19:
• Beshear encouraged Hopkins County residents to take advantage of free testing next week at Henderson Community College. People can be tested between 8:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday.
• the Hopkins County Regional Chamber of Commerce offered free signs to businesses with reminders on social distancing. They’re available at the Chamber office on East Center Street.
• Hopkins County Deputy Clerk Jenny Menser reported 711 people voted on the opening day of the mobile voting unit in north Madisonville. The unit is at Veterans Park in Dawson Springs until 6 p.m. tonight.
• Hanson City Clerk Casey Pearson said the city commission will meet in-person Tuesday night, in its first meeting since February.