FRANKFORT — The first Kentucky patient to test positive for the new coronavirus is improving, Gov. Andy Beshear said Monday while revealing that the person worked at the Walmart in Cynthiana.
Six coworkers who worked closely with the patient have self-isolated themselves and none have shown symptoms of the illness, health officials said.
“For everybody who has been through that Walmart, I know it’s going to make you nervous,” the governor said at a statehouse news conference. “Just because you’ve been there doesn’t mean that you have the coronavirus. We have to stay calm.”
The first Kentucky patient’s condition is is improving, Beshear said.
The Walmart store remains open. Public health officials said the company had followed guidelines and worked closely with them. Walmart said in a statement Monday that it “reinforced our cleaning and sanitizing protocols” after being notified of the case. The company said it would take “any and all measures necessary” to ensure the well-being of its employees and customers.
“We have been communicating with our associates, stressing the importance of staying home if they are not feeling well and encouraging our associates to seek medical care immediately if they have any signs or symptoms,” the company said.
Meanwhile, Beshear issued an executive order Monday to waive coronavirus-related copays, deductibles, cost-sharing and diagnostic testing fees for private insurance and for state employees. The state also was removing any impediments for the state’s Medicaid recipients to be tested and treated, he said.
“My goal, and what we’re going to get to, is to make sure that there is no cost barrier to these tests,” the Democratic governor said.
Four cases of the virus have been diagnosed in Kentucky — two in Harrison County, one in Jefferson County and one in Fayette County. Jefferson and Fayette counties are the two most populous counties in Kentucky. Their county seats are Louisville and Lexington, respectively.
The second Harrison County patient who tested positive for the virus is linked to the first case, but not through Walmart, the governor said.
All four patients are being treated in isolation, he said.
As of Monday morning, the state had received results for 21 tests with 17 being negative.
In Harrison County, a rural area in north-central Kentucky, local schools are closed this week. The district turned to a system for students to work from home during bad weather or other situations. The local newspaper published a special edition about coronavirus that went to countywide residents. The lead headline said: “Don’t panic.”
“I think it’s safe to say that Cynthiana is probably the most disinfected city in the state of Kentucky today,” the town’s mayor, James Smith, said at the news conference.
Beshear said just one of the state’s four coronavirus patients has a history of traveling to an area hard hit by the virus.
“We believe, and this seems to be the case nationally, that this is community spreading — spreading from person to person,” he said. “Again, that has been expected. We are ready for it.”
Beshear also announced that state government is adjusting its sick leave policy to ensure its employees who are sick can stay home, even if if they have not yet accrued leave time.
The governor urged private employers to support keeping workers home if they are ill.
“If you’re running a factory and one person is staying home and you’re picking up the bill for that, that’s better than having to shut the entire thing for up to 14 days,” he said.
While urging calm, the governor said more confirmed cases are expected in Kentucky.
“We will have more and we expect more,” Beshear said.
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