EXCLUSIVE: Governor Beshear on reopenings, Class of 2020, anxiety, the future

Governor+Andy+Beshear+talks+with+Manual+RedEye+reporters+about+various+topics+on+Tuesday.

Reece Gunther

Governor Andy Beshear talks with Manual RedEye reporters about various topics on Tuesday.

By Reece Gunther, KC Ciresi, Payton Carns, and Maddie Gamertsfelder

In an exclusive interview with Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear, Beshear indicated that he is focused on making every effort possible to allow students the opportunity to attend school in the fall. However, in-person instruction will look quite a bit different than it has in the past.

“I want to do everything I can to get our young men and women back in school in the fall, but we also want it to be safe,” Beshear said. “I think it’s something everyone wants and we all know that distance learning, NTI, does not provide the same experience.”

Beshear, along with the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE), is now focused on helping school districts prepare for many possibilities, providing guidance to school districts on preparation for every possibility.

As summer progresses, it will become clearer on whether heat has a significant impact on the virus. If it does, Beshear will recommend that school districts conduct classes earlier than usual, knowing that a prolonged fall or winter break is to be anticipated.

If not, school districts and KDE will focus their summer on reopening efforts and planning. For districts like JCPS, with one of the largest busing systems in the United States and a janitorial shortage, this planning becomes crucial.

“What does that [planning] mean? Is it a staggered start? Does it mean that part of classes may go at one time and others may go at another? I think that we’ve got to be open and we’ve got to be innovative with the goal of making it work,” Beshear said. “The goals would be to thin out, and spread out, individuals.”

School districts will need to be flexible and consider ways to monitor student health. “Healthy at School” will have similar guidelines to the current “Healthy at Work.” This includes staying home and getting tested if you have symptoms, wearing masks and practicing social distancing.

Beshear noted that at the Capitol, everyone is required to wear a mask and have a touchless temperature check. Although it may be difficult, he suggested that adding these standards to schools in the fall would significantly increase safety.

“We’re gonna have to learn how to live with this virus until we get that vaccine,” Beshear said. “I don’t want to put anyone in a position that I wouldn’t be willing to send my own kids into.”

Class of 2020

Beshear also spoke about the seniors this year unable to have in-person graduation due to COVID-19. He hopes that the class of 2020 uses this experience as a way to better themselves as individuals and strengthen their values of kindness and compassion for others.

“You are living through a historic time—one that’s asking you to make a sacrifice that no one else has had to make. What a statement that makes about you,” Beshear said.

During this time, Beshear understands the challenges in abiding by a “Healthy at Home” lifestyle but reassured that the great sacrifices that the seniors have made are appreciated and proves how special this class of students truly are.

“Every decision that you’ve made has protected other people. I couldn’t have said that at 18 or 17 but you can,” Beshear said.

Beshear also recognized and applauded the way that seniors are using this circumstance as an opportunity to show their character and practice their responsibilities as Kentuckians by staying at home and preventing the spread of COVID-19.

“You’ve been able at this time to live your values and truly live out your civic duty as citizens in a way that I don’t know any generation at least going back to the 1940s has done,” Beshear said.

Although there are many negatives and missed opportunities during this time, Beshear wants seniors to use these lessons as a way to benefit them as individuals.

“I hope that these values help guide and shape not only you and your generation but the rest of us as well,” Beshear said.

In the future, Beshear plans to get more youth involved in state government as he believes their voices deserve to be heard. He applauds the seniors for the unity that they have created within each other, and the selflessness they are exhibiting during this time.

“You all have big bright futures. I’m really proud of you and I hope you’re really proud of the work you’ve done too,” Beshear said.

Beshear explained that with the kindness and compassion that he has seen from the class of 2020 and all Kentuckians that there is no doubt that the world after COVID-19 will be better than the world we knew before.

“I know that this is a difficult time, but we’re going to get through this, and we’re going to get through it together because that’s the type of people that we are,” Beshear said.

Anxiety and controversy 

Despite some of the controversy and protests surrounding Governor Beshear’s decisions, he’s committed to doing what he feels is best to keep everyone safe and healthy.

For some people, their anxiety might be about the virus and the health risks associated with it. For others, their anxiety might be about economic damage and financial hardships, but ultimately, most people are sharing some level of fear and anxiety.

“We all have anxiety right now, and we should admit that,” Beshear said. “It weighs on me that just about every decision that I make is one of life and death.”

He’s tried to be very careful in balancing health decisions with economic damage, realizing that a wrong decision could negatively hurt either side. He knows

“Instead of the focus on the small percentage that disagrees, because it’s a very small percentage, a focus on the overwhelming unity in the state,” Beshear said. “In my lifetime, I’ve never seen people come together in this state in the way they have to address this virus, to sacrifice for each other, to put other people’s wellbeing above their own personal financial interests.”

Beshear said he takes hope and inspiration from the people of Kentucky in the way they’ve made decisions for the common good. He cited restaurants that have chosen not to open because they know that is the best way to keep people safe.

He’s received about 8,000 letters, overwhelmingly positive, along with the cups he uses every night which come from people who have wanted to show support for “doing the right things and looking out for each other.”

“I’d like to think that support isn’t about me, it’s about us. It’s about reconnecting with our fellow human being, about realizing that those divisions that kept us from talking to our neighbors, regardless of what the issues were, aren’t terribly important when we realize now our actions can compromise the health of our neighbors,” Beshear said.

Future briefings

Governor Beshear emphasized his enjoyment for the daily press briefings, as a way to connect with the citizens of the Commonwealth, especially since he’s been unable to connect with people directly.

It’s a time to be really transparent and honest about where we are,” Beshear said.

He’s planning to continue the briefings Monday through Friday, to allow people to have weekends off. Lab data isn’t as impactful or telling on the weekends as it is throughout the week.

“I hope that we can do this after [the pandemic]. The ability to directly talk to people without a lens there, to be a little bit raw and to be a little bit vulnerable, and hopefully I’ve been that, to let people know when I don’t have the answers,” Beshear said.

Further, Beshear recognizes that he doesn’t know all of the answers for a once in a lifetime pandemic, and sometimes, he makes mistakes. But, it’s still a time for him to connect with the people of Kentucky and inform people about the happenings of the state government.

“I hope I can start adding in things that are not just directly coronavirus related,” Beshear said. “One thing I’m going to announce tonight is we’re going to start moving it around too, so people can see different parts of Frankfort and the Capitol.”

They’re headed to the Supreme Court Chamber next week to provide a citizen connection to the government that many people might not feel on a day to day basis.

Jefferson County and urban environments

Before being elected governor, Beshear lived in Louisville for 15 years. Jefferson County will always have a personal connection to him, being his home and the place he raised his children. Because of the diversity of Jefferson County, it’s bringing to light how unequal access to healthcare is having a disproportionate impact.

Many resources have been dedicated to heavily urban areas like Louisville, and Beshear has a call with Mayor Greg Fischer three times each week.

“I think a lot about what we need to do going forward,” Beshear said. “It’s also about making sure that everyone has access to healthcare. I believe it’s a basic human right and we’re seeing the costs of it.”

He further emphasized that Kentucky, and the United States, cannot go back to an old normal. Instead, the country must learn the lessons here and recognize the importance of being prepared with sufficient labs and PPE manufacturers, along with a strong food supply chain.

“Jefferson County has been the economic engine of Kentucky, it’s going to be again, I believe that as we reopen, it’s gonna thrive,” Beshear said. “It’s a special place.”

This story was originally published on Manual RedEye on May 19, 2020.