With some Kentucky business eligible to reopen as soon as Monday, Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer said the key question right now is how to balance the virus’ damage to people’s health with its damage to the economy.
The city is anticipating a revenue shortfall of $115 million this fiscal year and next due to the pandemic, Fischer said in his budget address last month. While health and safety is top priority, Louisville can’t stay shut down forever, he said during a media briefing Friday.
Some people are criticizing the city’s phased reopening — which follows the plan laid out by Gov. Andy Beshear — saying it’s too slow, Fischer said.
“But the vast, vast majority of people are saying take it slow, go with a measured approach like we’re doing right now,” he said. “And if it gets to where it looks like it’s getting out of control, we will not hesitate to close things down, tighten the faucet once again.”
He announced 39 new cases Friday, for a total of 1,592. With two new confirmed deaths, the number of Louisville residents whose deaths were related to COVID-19 is 115.
Fischer said reopening does not mean it’s time to return to normal. For members of the public, that means continuing to practice social distancing, wearing masks and being diligent about hand-washing.
Sarah Moyer, Louisville’s chief health strategist, reiterated the minimum guidelines business owners must meet before reopening, as defined by the the governor’s office. They include continuing to telework if possible, providing masks at no cost to employees and limiting face-to-face interactions.
“If we fail to do these things, we will reverse the gains we’ve made over these past last two months and we will see a resurgence in new COVID-19 cases and deaths,” she said.
Fischer said widespread testing and the ability to follow up with contacts of those who test positive will be essential for building confidence people require to rejoin the economy. Fischer said more than 11,000 residents have been tested to date. The system he would like to implement involves higher levels of testing, isolating all who test positive, identifying everyone who had contact with the infected person and quarantining all of those people for 14 days.
But doing that will require a large number of contact tracers, which Louisville doesn’t have yet. Fischer said Louisville still has about 50 contact tracers, including some volunteers. Moyer said last week that she wants to hire 100 or more additional contact tracers. On Friday, she said the city put out a request for proposals this week and will have more to say next week on the process of hiring these workers.
Fischer and Moyer said tracing activity will have to be coordinating with officials in southern Indiana, where businesses are reopening on a quicker timeline than Kentucky.
“There’s no question that the virus will be going back and forth across the river,” he said.