Mayor Fischer says expanded testing and contact tracing is key to city’s recovery from COVID-19 crisis
Mayor Greg Fischer today said the city must greatly strengthen its ability to test and quarantine people exposed to the COVID-19 virus before it can ease emergency restrictions and fully reopen the economy.
The city has already begun a major effort to ramp up testing of the public, including the establishment of testing sites at Shawnee Park and the Bashford Manor Walmart. But the next step is increased contact tracing, in which authorities track down anyone who may have been exposed to a person with a positive test.
“We need to know who has the virus, get them quarantined and then our public health department has to have the capacity to track down the people who’ve been in contact with someone who has the virus and get them in quarantine. That’s how we beat COVID-19,” Mayor Fischer said.
The cost for this kind of major project is between $25 million and $100 million, the Mayor said. Although Congress has allocated $25 billion for coronavirus testing, the Mayor said local officials don’t know how much the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services is sending to Louisville. He also expressed doubt that the eventual amount will be enough to help the Metro Department of Public Health and Wellness sufficiently increase its capacity to test, trace, and track anyone with COVID-19.
“There remains uncertainty on this critical expense about what can and will be able to be funded by the federal or state governments,” Mayor Fischer said. “In any event, we know that not nearly enough federal funding has been allocated for Louisville’s combined costs for the direct impact from the virus and the revenue shortfalls associated with that.”
Dr. Sarah Moyer, the city’s chief health strategist, said Metro Public Health and Wellness has already expanded its Communicable Disease Team from nine people to 55, but did so by reassigning current staff members and utilizing student volunteers. Many more contact tracers will be needed for the city to maintain control of the current outbreak and prevent future ones.
“Communities don’t wait until there’s a fire to start hiring firefighters. When there’s a fire, we expect firefighters to show up with the right number of people and the right equipment,” Dr. Moyer said. “Our public health system should be no less prepared.”
The Mayor reiterated his demand that the federal government send more direct aid to Louisville as it continues to weather this public health crisis and resulting economic shutdown.
“This is why I continue to call for the federal government to provide the direct, flexible support that state and local governments need to provide critical services so we can beat this virus and get our economy safely reopened and move forward,” the Mayor said. “And I urge you to ask your federal representatives to do the same.”
Meanwhile, the Mayor said he hopes the new public testing sites will help address the disproportionate impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on Louisville’s African American community. Although African Americans represent 23 to 24 percent of the city’s population, they make up almost a third – 32 percent – of Louisville’s COVID-19 fatalities.
“African Americans are dying of COVID-19 in disproportionately higher numbers in our city and around the country,” the Mayor said. “Being able to test more of our residents is one of the key determining factors in our plans to start safely reopening our economy when the data indicates that we’re ready. And this is especially critical in our African American communities.”
The city has partnered with the University of Louisville, Family Health Centers and Park DuValle Community Health Center to ensure African Americans here have access to more testing and healthcare and is coordinating messages about the need for social distancing with media outlets like WLOU, WGZB-96 and The Louisville Defender.
T Gonzales, director of the Center for Health Equity at the Metro Department of Public Health and Wellness, is helping to direct this effort.
“Equity means everyone has a fair and just opportunity to be safe and healthy,” Gonzales said. “We need strategies for every community to be healthy where they live, work, learn and play, and access the care and treatment they need.”
As of Wednesday, there have been 37 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Louisville, bringing the total to 1,226 with 606 recoveries. There have been five additional deaths since Tuesday, bringing the Louisville total to 89.
Gender/Age data for today’s deaths:
Currently, 45 members of LMPD, Louisville Fire, Metro EMS, Metro Corrections and the Sheriff’s Office are off-duty due to COVID-19:
- 7 are off with positive tests and in self-isolation.
- 5 are off and quarantined due to exposure to someone with a positive test.
- 33 are “screened off” with symptoms and tested, or due to be tested, but have not received test results.
Positive test numbers for first responders/public safety since the incident began:
- 18 positive tests.
- 11 have fully recovered and returned to duty.
Metro Corrections inmate data for April 29:
- 108 inmates have been tested.
- 0 positive tests.
- 1 test is pending.
Mayor Fischer today offered an update on the 30-Day Upskilling Challenge he made to encourage Louisvillians to access free tech training during the COVID-19 shutdown. Since the challenge was issued two weeks ago, 4,000 people have participated and the program has issued more than 200 tech training badges, ranging from half-hour intro courses to advanced coding. Six people have won a new laptop through the challenge.
“As we think about how we as a community bounce back from the COVID-19 crisis, our Metro Government team is focused on ensuring that everyone in our community has an opportunity to reach their full potential,” the Mayor said.
Louisville Forward, the city’s economic development agency, is working in partnership with Louisville Future of Work initiative powered by Microsoft, the University of Louisville, Humana, IBM, and the tech education firm General Assembly to offer free resources for those interested in gaining new skills – a.k.a. “upskilling” – into jobs in the new data economy.
Thus far, 59% of the participants are woman and 20% are African American.
“These skills are priming these individuals, their families and our city for new and better opportunities as this crisis evolves,” Mayor Fischer said. “We are excited that the people participating reflect the diversity of our community. Let’s keep that up.”
Go to www.futurelou.com for more information and to sign up.
Throughout the crisis, Mayor Fischer has urged the community to make and donate much-needed personal protection equipment (PPE) for medical workers and first responders working on the frontlines.
Today, he thanked four more local organizations that answered his call.
“They’re making an incredible commitment and sacrifice for us, so I want to give a shout to them and to the folks going the extra mile to support them,” the Mayor said. “Today, I want to highlight some of my fellow public servants who are going way above and beyond the call in this crisis.”
- The Louisville Water Company (200 masks)
- S. Social Security Administration Louisville office (500 masks)
- The Louisville Free Public Library (40 N95 masks, 9,300 pairs of gloves)
- Louisville Health Advisory Board (handmade facemasks)
If you would like to donate PPE such as masks, gowns, gloves, and other protective gear, please contact Louisville Metro Government at [email protected].
Thursday tele town hall to focus on higher education
Mayor Fischer will host a tele town hall on Thursday morning that looks at the impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on higher education and how local institutions are rising to the challenge.
His guests will be University of Louisville President Dr. Neeli Bendapudi; Jefferson Community and Technical College President Dr. Ty Handy; and Marland Cole, executive director of Evolve 502, a program that helps JCPS students pursue post-secondary education.
“We’ll talk about how this crisis has impacted students, professors, ongoing research and plans for the class of 2020 and 2021 – both high school seniors and college seniors who are graduating into a set of unique and challenging circumstances,” Mayor Fischer said.
To participate, go to Facebook.com/MayorGregFischer at 10 a.m. on Thursday.