Health Metro Louisville

Louisville’s COVID-19 incidence rate has fallen below 25 cases per 100,000 people for the first time since October, reflecting a steady decrease in spread in recent weeks.

Metro associate medical director Dr. SarahBeth Hartlage reported an incidence rate of 23.6 cases per 100,000 people at Tuesday’s coronavirus briefing. Last week’s rate was 28.4. Rates above 25 are considered the red zone.

“We are continuing to kind of tiptoe right along that line,” Hartlage said. “Our cases have fallen, but this is not the time to let up.”

Hartlage reported 1,269 new COVID-19 cases in Louisville last week. It’s the lowest total since early October.

Weekly case totals have fallen significantly since peaking at more than 4,000 in January. But death rates continue to be high, with 38 added to the toll last week.

“As long as we have cases, we will continue to have hospitalized patients, and we will continue to have patients who die from this disease,” Hartlage said. “And every one of those patients is somebody’s husband, mother, family member or loved one. They’re not just a number. One is too many. We need to keep up our defenses.”

Mayor Greg Fischer said vaccine availability is one of the most important factors in fighting the virus. More than 120,000 residents – or about 20% of the population – have received at least a first dose.

Fischer expects vaccinations to ramp up even more now that Johnson & Johnson’s one-shot vaccine has been approved. Eligibility in Kentucky also expanded to include phase 1c this week.

“The opportunity to get the shot will be there for more and more people as supplies increase,” Fischer said. “We’ve seen a nice increase in the vaccine supply since Jan. 20 or so, but over the next six to eight weeks in particular, we’re going to see a lot more vaccines.”

But public health experts are concerned about the emergence of new coronavirus variants. On Feb. 2, a new variant was detected during a wastewater assessment in Louisville.

Dr. Aruni Bhatnagar, director of the Christina Lee Brown Envirome Institute at the University of Louisville, said the variant is prominent in California. He called its presence in Louisville “alarming.”

“This variant may actually be resistant to the vaccine and also be resistant to the antibodies that people have had who were previously infected with COVID,” he said. “So there is some concern that this variant is here, and it might be spreading. It certainly suggests it’s not the time to let our masks down.”

John Boyle covers southern Indiana communities and health for WFPL News. He is a Report for America Corps member.