LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Gov. Andy Beshear pledged Monday to lift capacity restrictions at most businesses and venues once 2.5 million Kentuckians have received at least their first COVID-19 shot, offering an incentive to accelerate the vaccination pace.

The Democratic governor's announcement coincided with the opening of the state's largest vaccination site at Cardinal Stadium in Louisville. The goal is to vaccine 200,000 people in the next seven weeks at the massive drive-through location in the state's largest city, he said.

About 1.6 million Kentuckians have received at least their first dose of COVID-19 vaccine, Beshear estimated. But several vaccination sites have thousands of available openings. More than 10,000 appointments remain unfilled this week at the mass vaccination site at Cardinal Stadium, he said. Large numbers of openings are available in Lexington, Bowling Green, Corbin and LaGrange, he said.

The governor is hoping the new the vaccination goal for ending capacity restrictions at most businesses and venues will offer an enticement to pick up the inoculation pace.

“When we have vaccinated 2.5 million Kentuckians, we will remove capacity restrictions for nearly all venues, events and businesses that cater to 1,000 or fewer patrons," Beshear said.

That vaccination threshold could be reached as soon as 3½ weeks given current vaccine supplies, but “realistically” it's probably going to take four to six weeks to achieve it, he said.

“But it is all up to us,” the governor said. “Every single individual's choices can get us closer to that normalcy we've been looking for.”

Anyone 16 or older is eligible to be vaccinated in Kentucky. The 2.5 million threshold would mean that 70% of people 16 or older in Kentucky would have at least their first dose of vaccine.

Beshear noted that reaching the vaccination target would lift capacity limits at cross-sections of businesses and venues.

“If you are a restaurant, a bar, a store, a public pool, a country club, a grocery, a funeral home, a wedding venue, a concert hall, a museum, if you put on festivals, if you are a distillery, this is what you’ve been waiting for,” he said. "A clear number and a clear goal to hit.”

Meeting his “vaccination challenge” also would result in removing physical distancing restrictions as well as curfew restrictions on bars and restaurants.

The governor stressed that Kentuckians would still be expected to wear masks in public and mass gatherings would still be limited, even once those other restrictions are eased or lifted, to guard against the threat of COVID-19 variants.

He urged businesses to do their part to reach the goal that will remove capacity limits.

“Make sure if you're a restaurant that your entire staff has been vaccinated,” he said. “Make sure if you are a business, a retail location, all of your staff has been vaccinated. Reach out to your customers. Reach out those that want to get back to normalcy.”

University of Louisville Health, partnering with the state, opened the regional vaccination site at Cardinal Stadium. The site can operate up to 28 vaccination lanes and will feature about 100 health care workers, volunteers and Kentucky National Guard members, with a goal of vaccinating up to 4,000 people a day. It will be open six days a week.

“It’ll make a huge difference in our commonwealth’s fight against COVID,” said UofL President Neeli Bendapudi.

She praised Beshear for his leadership during the pandemic, calling it “steadfast, rational, effective and has set up Kentucky as a national standard in addressing the pandemic”

While appointments are encouraged, the site “will accommodate anyone 16 or older who shows up and wants to receive the vaccine,” said Dr. Jason Smith, chief medical officer at UofL Health.

Meanwhile, the governor reported 270 new confirmed coronavirus cases statewide and seven more virus-related deaths. The state's rate of positive cases reached 3.16%, the highest level in about a month.

“We've got to be watching that,” he said of the positivity rate. “We should be wary.”

Kentucky hospitals are treating 380 virus patients, including 104 in intensive care units, he said.

Kentucky has reported more than 6,250 coronavirus-related deaths since the pandemic began.


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