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How the 2019 gubernatorial race impacted Kentucky’s early COVID-19 experience

September 20, 2021
the flag of Kentucky

When Democratic candidate Andy Beshear defeated Republican incumbent Matt Bevin in the 2019 election, no one could have predicted that COVID-19 would define his term. In a recent study published by PLOS One, UofL economist Dr. Joshua Pinkston and several other researchers examined the impact of early social distancing policies on the pandemic in Kentucky.

While Kentucky is a “relatively conservative, rural, white-working-class state,” Beshear’s pandemic policy aligned with other Democratic governors—remote learning, the closing of restaurants and bars, and shelter-in-place orders (SIPO). These policy decisions were much more restrictive than states with Republican leadership. The end result—Kentucky was able to initially flatten the curve.

The study determined that “strong social distancing policies have, on average, strong effects in Southern and Midwestern states.” At the same time, Kentucky’s restrictions helped slow the spread of COVID-19 in the state’s two major urban areas (Lexington and Louisville) but “had no statistically detectable effect across the state” where the rural population is more white, working-class conservative.

Ultimately it’s believed that a robust social distancing policy (as initially enacted by Gov. Beshear) would continue to flatten the curve. In light of the rising COVID cases over the past few months, the researchers also offer this caveat—the policy will be as effective as the community attitudes over restrictions and the demographic make-up of its residents.

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