Fact✓Check | The Kentucky Debate: Pandemic-era policies

Fact✓Check | The Kentucky Debate: Pandemic-era policies
Published: Oct. 27, 2023 at 5:30 PM EDT
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LEXINGTON, Ky. (WKYT) - As part of our Campaign 2023 commitment to holding the candidates accountable, WKYT is providing context surrounding several topics of discussion from The Kentucky Debate.

At several different points in the debate, Governor Beshear’s COVID-19 decisions came up for discussion.

Claim: “All of our initial steps...were steps that were suggested by the Trump administration.”

Who said it: Andy Beshear

Fact✓Check: We do know that state leaders were getting guidance from federal leaders, but, in the interest of clarity here, there was also tension - and differences in opinion - at times between President Trump himself and his administration’s health officials.

Cameron has criticized Beshear most over pandemic policies about schools and churches, so let’s look at those, specifically.


On March 12, Gov. Beshear recommended that schools stop in-person instruction for at least two weeks beginning March 16. That is the day President Trump publicly recommended “that all Americans, including the young and healthy, work to engage in schooling from home when possible.”

The main differences, then, came not in the implementation of the policy but in deciding when and how to scale it back.

A study found that by the end of March, all but one public school district across the country was closed. By May, Education Week reported that 48 states had ordered or recommended schools stay closed through the end of the 2019-2020 academic year.

At that time, President Trump was criticizing his own administration’s guidance and began pushing to reopen schools - even, The New York Times reported, pressuring the CDC to downplay the COVID risk to reopening. In July he publicly took issue withthe CDC’s guidance on reopening.

In Kentucky, many schools would start the 2020-2021 year virtual. And in November, facing another spike, the governor ordered schools to stay remote through December or January.


On March 13, President Trump announced that the CDC is advising communities to postpone large gatherings, postpone assemblies, social functions, and sporting events” and also “limit in-person meetings,” among other steps. That announcement did not specifically mention how it would apply to churches or other houses of worship.

Three days later, President Trump recommended avoiding gathering in groups of more than 10 people.

That was three days before Kentucky banned all mass gatherings - including faith-based events.

On April 10, Beshear warned that people attending in-person mass gatherings - which included church services - on Easter Weekend would face quarantine orders and be notified that they were in misdemeanor violation of emergency orders.

Seven churches held in-person services on Easter Sunday in defiance of those orders. State police gathered license plate numbers in the parking lot for follow-up with quarantine orders.

(Two churches sued Beshear over the order; Attorney General Daniel Cameron joined those lawsuits. By the time a federal judge halted the governor’s ban, Gov. Beshear had already announced that churches could again hold in-person services.)

The Washington Post later reported that the Trump administration pushed back against “problematic” CDC guidance that included specific recommendations for virtual or drive-in church services.

Claim: “This governor let out of jail 2,000 criminals. Until a couple of days ago, I was saying only a third of them had recommitted felony offenses. Turns out, I was wrong. Over 50% of them have recommitted felony offenses.”

Who said it: Daniel Cameron

Fact✓Check: The Lexington Herald-Leader did a good job of breaking down this claim, which is also at the center of several TV ads you may have seen.

Early in the pandemic, Gov. Beshear ordered the release of 1,700 inmates deemed “medically vulnerable” or with less than six months remaining on their sentence who were serving time for non-violent, non-sexual offenses.

A state report one year later found that 47% faced at least one new criminal charge, with 32% charged with a felony.

But, as the Herald-Leader pointed out, that data reflected charges, not convictions. (Charges are accusations, not proof.)

And the Justice and Public Safety Cabinet said the majority of those new charges came more than six months after the inmates were released, meaning, by then, many would have been out of prison anyway.

Kentucky was not the only state that took this step. Between March and June, more than 100,000 people were released from state and federal prisons, the Brennan Center reported.

Recidivism is not unique to those inmates. A study that looked at 74,000 prisoners released by 24 states in 2008 found that at least 82% were arrested and charged again in a 10-year period.