LEXINGTON, Ky. — The pandemic hit Kentucky business owners hard, costing one Lexington company $4 million within the first month.

“It was absolutely frightening,” Integrated Sign and Graphic president Aaron Anderkin said. “From day to day, you didn’t know whether you were going to be open. You didn’t know what to tell your employees.”

Anderkin was one of a few business owners to speak during a round table event with Sen. Rand Paul at the University of Kentucky on Thursday.

Paul has been talking with business owners this week, focusing most of his attention on COVID-19 restrictions.   

“There’s no real evidence that we should still be doing this,” Paul said.

Paul has been against most coronavirus rules since the pandemic started, but now that the vaccine is widely available and effective, he said it’s really time to open things all the way up.

“I think the virus pretty much had a mind of its own and did what it wanted no matter what we did, other than the vaccine,” Paul said.

Gov. Andy Beshear has tied reopening to how many Kentuckians get vaccinated, and criticized those pushing for reopening for not doing enough to encourage more vaccinations as the vaccine rate has fallen in recent weeks.

Several times this week, Paul promoted getting vaccinated, but usually made it clear that it should be a personal choice.

“The vaccine does work and people should be encouraged to get the vaccine,” Paul said. “Encouraged, and do it of their own free will, but it has made a difference.”

Paul said if Beshear is serious about reducing vaccine hesitancy, he needs to allows doctors to give the vaccine at their offices.

During his Thursday press conference, Beshear said the state is starting to provide doctors with vaccines, but the situation is complicated because they don’t want to waste vaccines.

Manufacturers ship the vaccine in vials that typically contain 10 doses, and once they’re opened, they have to be used that day.

Beshear said he’s hopeful Pfizer and Moderna will start providing it in single-dose vials, but it doesn’t appear like it will happen anytime soon.

“If we can just get every public official, every day, pushing these vaccines as hard as they can because of their efficacy, it’ll be really helpful,” Beshear said.

The governor also praised Sen. Mitch McConnell for promoting the vaccine during his recent stops in Kentucky, saying he’s “very direct about how positive” the vaccine is.

“That’s different than some others, and I don’t want to get in a back-and-forth and I don’t want to give anybody oxygen and I’m not trying to fued with anybody, I just want help,” Beshear said. “We just need help from folks that are especially part of a demographic that may be more hesitant to get the vaccine.”

Spectrum News asked Sen. Paul if he could be doing more to promote the vaccine.

“I think if you’ve come to our speeches, and I’ve given 20 speeches in the last two days, and in every one, I’ve said the reason we’re overcoming this virus is because 85 percent of people over 65 have been vaccinated, and because a third of this country has had the disease naturally,” Paul said, citing a CDC estimate for the number of people infected. “The combination of natural immunity and vaccine immunity is combining to dramatically lower the cases, so in no case have I ever downplayed and in every speech that I have given, I have advocated for vaccines.”

Also on Thursday, Beshear announced he plans to ease restriction on May 28: indoor and outdoor businesses with fewer than 1,000 people can open to 75 percent capacity, while indoor and outdoor events with more than 1,000 people can operate at 60 percent capacity.

The mask mandate was recently eased to allow people at outdoor events with fewer than 1,000 people to go without a mask. Small groups in private businesses where everyone has been fully vaccinated are also no longer required to wear masks.