Health

Louisville plans to hire more than a hundred or more staff to conduct contact tracing using federal funding provided through the first round of the CARES Act.

Mayor Greg Fischer says the city is ready for a phased reopening as long as it’s done carefully and in conjunction with robust testing and contact tracing.

“We’ve got to bring the economy back while we’re still safeguarding people’s health,” Fischer said. “As of today I’m comfortable, but that’s why we have to continue to monitor all this and that’s why we have to have more testing.”

Widespread testing will help the city understand the extent that the virus has spread through the population. Contact tracing is the next step. Once positives have been identified, tracers reach out to anyone who may have been in contact with a positive case to isolate them and prevent further spread, said Public Health and Wellness Director Dr. Sarah Moyer.

Before the pandemic, the city had about nine contact tracers handling any number of health crises including STDs, HIV, whooping cough and measles. Now, that staff has helped to train those who have come on board, Moyer said.

The city has about 55 contact tracers currently and hopes to add between 100 and 200 staff depending on how fast the virus spreads. Right now, that team is largely focused on investigating the cases of confirmed positives, Moyer said.

“We hope as we are able to build up our team we will be able to go more into that contact tracing and so that’s what we need more people for, slowly ramping up for that,” she said.

The ideal would be to have about 30 contact tracers per 100,000 residents, according to the National Association of County and City Health Officials. An NPR study found that Kentucky had about half of that as of Tuesday.

Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear has pledged to hire more than 700 state workers in addition to what Louisville has committed for Jefferson County.

Louisville received about $134 million through the first round of congressional CARES Act funding to help cover the costs associated with managing the spread of the virus, including testing and contact tracing. Fischer said that funding has help deal with the direct needs of the pandemic, but the city is still left with a big hole in its budget.

As Louisville begins to reopen, Fischer said the city will continue to monitor the number of cases that are confirmed each day. If they increase too much or too fast, the city will go back into a lockdown, he said.

Fischer emphasized that the public will continue to play a role in protecting their friends and neighbors. Wearing a face mask in public, limiting contacts and maintaining good hygiene are critical to slowing the spread of the coronavirus, he said.

Ryan Van Velzer is WFPL's Energy and Environment Reporter.