Health

Health departments across the state have ramped up hiring, and have more than tripled the number of contact tracers Kentucky had since the pandemic began. But by some estimates, the state still has less than a third of what it needs to effectively combat the coronavirus.

The state is up to 1,240 staff members for contact tracing, Mark Carter from the Cabinet for Health and Family services said Wednesday during Gov. Andy Beshear’s briefing.

“We are not quite at our total capacity. We have roughly 130 additional spots that we could fill and we continue to do that,” he said. Before the pandemic, the state had 431 contact tracers.

But according to a contact tracing workforce estimating tool from George Washington University, the state’s real need for contact tracing is 3,789 staff members. That means even with the new hires, Kentucky still has just 32% of the staff needed.

Carter said he believes Kentucky has what it needs.

“We do have the capacity, basically, in terms of the staffing and the tools available to the staff to effectively contact trace,” he said. But he said that also depends on whether Kentuckians are following public health guidelines around masking and social distancing.

He said contact tracers across the state are having varying degrees of success in reaching the people they need. “Anywhere from 50% to 70% of contacts are made,” he estimated.

He added that more data would be available in about two weeks.

During the briefing, Beshear reported 776 new cases of coronavirus, including 91 among children under the age of 18. Eight more people have died, bringing the state’s total coronavirus deaths to 1,082. Wednesday’s deaths include a 49-year-old woman, two people in their 60s, two people in their 70s, and three people in their 80s.

“We still have higher case numbers than we’d like to see,” Beshear said. “But we don’t at the moment see those accelerating from last week or the week before. That’s a good thing. We see our positivity rate coming down some, and that’s a good thing.”

The state’s positivity rate was 3.89% Wednesday, down from more dangerous rates earlier this month. Public health experts say positivity rates above 5% are a sign it is not safe to reopen the economy.

Beshear noted that both Jefferson County and Fayette County were downgraded to yellow from red on the White House’s coronavirus report, for the first time since the state report began being distributed.

But he warned Kentuckians to remain vigilant, noting that case numbers may be artificially lower this week because of laboratories and testing site closures over the Labor Day weekend.

And while yesterday the governor expanded the hours bars can stay open, he said he is worried moves to open the economy could increase spread.

“Yes, every time we increase our contacts, I worry about it,” he said.

Jess Clark is WFPL's Education and Learning Reporter.