Health

The city is expanding COVID-19 testing to include everyone showing symptoms and to minority people who are asymptomatic along with those working high risk jobs.

The plan was outlined at the Louisville Metro Department of Public Health and Wellness meeting on Wednesday.

The first step is to have adequate testing for every symptomatic person in the community, something characterized as not being a problem anymore, according to former health care executive Bill Altman, who was brought in to guide the city’s revamped testing response. Louisville, like many communities across the country, was limited in its testing capabilities early on the crisis due to a shortage of available tests and restrictions on who could be tested. Those hurdles have largely been overcome, Altman said.

Part two is the expansion of testing to select groups who aren’t showing symptoms of the disease. He said this part of the plan only includes people in minority communities, who have been disproportionately affected by the outbreak, and people in high-risk jobs, including health care and meatpacking workers.  

“We’re going to need some help in making sure that we communicate the importance of testing,” Altman said. “That it’s not threatening, that it is helpful. That if you test positive, then there are going to be resources to help you.”

The third piece is what Altman describes as “community insight testing,” which will be important as city and state officials move forward with plans to reopen the economy. The insight testing will allow for officials to get a better understanding of how widespread the virus has become in the community.

The Co-immunity Project, a partnership between the University of Louisville and a metro government task force, will systematically test the health care workforce for the disease as well as for antibodies to see if they had at some point previously acquired it. The results of that effort could help guide public health policy decisions in the months to come.

“[It] would enable them to make some generalizations about the extent of virus spread, both with respect to positive cases but also with respect to people who had it and whether there are antibodies in their system, to enable us to over the course of the next seven months make some data to supplement all the various other data sources that we have to make some policy judgments about where we think things are going,” Altman said.

According to Altman, Louisville is one of 13 cities in the United States that will test wastewater for the presence of coronavirus. This, too, could help officials determine the extent of the disease’s spread.

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