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Kentucky governor calls COVID-19 response ‘a test of our humanity’

Gov. Andy Beshear of Kentucky is one of the many leaders across the U.S. competing with the federal government and with other states to secure critical medical equipment during the coronavirus pandemic. He joins Judy Woodruff to discuss the sacrifices he sees Kentuckians making, what the state government is doing to try to increase health care capacity and a “bad system” of bidding for supplies.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Governor Andy Beshear of Kentucky is one of the many leaders across the country competing with the federal government and with other states to secure critical medical equipment needed by hospitals in his state.

    Governor Beshear joins us now from Frankfort.

    Governor, thank you so much for talking with us.

    Give us an update. I believe Kentucky is a state with a population of, what, 4.4 million people. Give us an overall update on how you are handling coronavirus at this point.

  • Governor Andy Beshear:

    Well, thank you for having me.

    And let me start the way I start every time I talk to Kentuckians at every day at 5:00. And that's saying that we will get through this, and we will get through it together.

    Battling this coronavirus is our patriotic duty as Kentuckians and as Americans. And I could not be prouder of how Kentuckians have banded together to address this coronavirus.

    We address it in three ways right now. Number one is using social distancing to make sure that we can flatten our curve. And I believe that our people have bought in and are actively doing that. And I couldn't be prouder of them. We have had to change our way of life.

    We have had to close and hundreds, thousands of small businesses. We have people not going to work that otherwise would have, but they understand that sacrifice is going to save lives.

    Second is, we work every day to increase our health care capacity, to make sure, when we have our surge hit, that we have a bed for those that need it and that we have a ventilator for those that need it.

    And, third, we work on increasing our testing as a state. That is a challenge. All the across the country right now, the major issue is having enough swabs. It's not our testing capacity.

    Now, number two and three there are limited by personal protective equipment. And I, like every other governor, are out there trying to scratch and claw to buy as much as we can.

    I don't place blame in any of that. And none of us knew about this specific virus four months ago. But it is a difficult system, where our people on the front lines don't have what they need.

    But if I can, really quickly, it just makes what they are doing more heroic. Doctors, nurses and others in my state go to work every single day knowing that their co-workers have contracted the coronavirus and that they don't have enough personal protective equipment.

    And that just makes their sacrifice and their willingness to do it that much more amazing. This is National Public Health Week.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Governor…

  • Governor Andy Beshear:

    And we appreciate them.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Governor, you said over the weekend that every order for personal protective equipment had been, in your words, circumvented by the federal government.

    So are you getting what you need now?

  • Governor Andy Beshear:

    We are not getting nearly what we need on personal protective equipment. And that's not just me. And I'm not feeling sorry for myself or for Kentucky. That's everybody.

    One of two things will happen. Either an order that we believe is coming in will be diverted by the federal government, by FEMA, and sent to a place that needs it. I know we need it. And there are other places that need it too, many of which have a spike in cases right now. And my heart goes out to them in New York or New Orleans.

    But the other thing that will happen is, those who've contracted with will call you right at the end and say, well, we don't have it or it went to another place.

    Buying personal protective equipment right now is one of the most difficult things that any of us have ever had to do through government. And we are reaching out through every possible lead. That's what I do in large part of my day every day, is try to chase down these leads.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, my question is, is the current system that requires governors to compete the way you are the best way to have done this? Should this have been something where it was allocated in one central place?

  • Governor Andy Beshear:

    Oh, I mean, a system where governors are competing against each other is a bad system.

    But, again, I try not to place blame, because we didn't know that we would need this much personal protective equipment as a world, not just as a country, until the coronavirus truly hit.

    We — I hope that we don't just learn our lessons, but that we can increase our capacity, and we can have a better way to get this out where it's needed as we move forward. It is tough to say, as a state, you should go out and get it on your own, and then have to compete with the federal government.

    But we're just doing what everybody else is.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Yes.

  • Governor Andy Beshear:

    But let me mention two other ways that we get it, both of which are important.

    We're working with our local businesses to try to manufacture it. And we have got a company that changed their leather-making into a face shield manufacturing, which has been really significant and helpful. And we're working with others to try to create masks and gowns and the other forms of PPE.

    But let me say that the third way we do it is donations. And we have seen everything from our veterinarians to our large industrial manufacturers step up and provide us hundreds of thousands of pieces of PPE that are going directly to our health care providers.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Governor, very…

  • Governor Andy Beshear:

    That's what happens when we unify as a state.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Governor, very quickly, you obviously have had a stay-at-home order in Kentucky.

    Two states, not your neighboring states, but they're close, they are Arkansas and then South Carolina, which is a couple of states away, but still in the region where you are, do not have stay-at-home orders.

    Does that affect the ability of people in Kentucky to stay healthy, to stay safe?

  • Governor Andy Beshear:

    Well, in Kentucky, we have taken aggressive action.

    And what that means is, we don't just issue what we call a healthy-at-home order, but it means we have had to shut businesses. We have our houses of worship doing virtual services, tens of thousands of people not going to work.

    We have made sacrifices. And this coronavirus doesn't know boundaries, state boundaries or county boundaries. And when others don't take aggressive action, what they do is at least thwart the sacrifice of millions of Kentuckians and residents of other states that are doing what it takes to defeat this virus.

    And so I wouldn't ask another governor to look at me and explain it. I would ask them to look at my people, who aren't going to work, who have shut down a small business that was their dream, because they want to protect each other.

    This is a test of our humanity, whether we will put each other's lives ahead of our own economic self-interest. I know we're passing it here in Kentucky. We need to pass it as a country.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Governor Andy Beshear, thank you very much for talking with us. And we wish you and the people of Kentucky the very best in all this.

  • Governor Andy Beshear:

    Thank you.

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