COVID contact tracing has not tracked business-specific spread in Kentucky

COVID contact tracing has not tracked business-specific spread in Kentucky

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - Area leaders are asking for data behind the latest round of COVID-19 restrictions that are industry-specific as thousands of business owners fear shutting down in Kentucky.

Their concerns come as Gov. Andy Beshear revealed restrictions that will fall on many businesses beginning Friday, Nov. 20 at 5 p.m. until Dec. 13.

WAVE 3 News Troubleshooters obtained a copy of an email from Dr. Sarah Moyer with the Louisville Health Department which states the city’s contact tracing system is unable to break down and report numbers based on the type of business affected by a positive COVID case.

“The system was designed by the state such that contact tracers enter narratives into text fields rather than checking boxes such as ‘restaurant’ or ‘daycare,’” Moyer’s August email stated.

Beshear also stated industry-specific contact tracing data, such as from restaurants or a sporting goods store, has not been available to the state, noting health experts are able to study clusters of positive cases instead.

“We are trying to compile this information,” Beshear said Thursday in his daily press briefing, “but what we are hearing over the past couple of weeks, almost nobody’s been able to do this.”

“Part of this is desire for information,” he continued, “part of this is for denial.”

To other local leaders like Louisville Metro Councilwoman Marilyn Parker, the lack of data appears to predispose some businesses of being unfairly restricted over others.

“I think it’s an arbitrary mandate that’s come down on restaurants and bars,” Parker said.

She said she has asked the Louisville’s Health Department to release any data showing which businesses have been a source of the spread of the coronavirus, but has so far received no such information.

“[Louisvillians] are doing their best to follow the rules,” Parker said. “I see the mask wearing, the social distancing.”

Crescent Bride, the owner of Joe’s Older Than Dirt Bar & Grill in St. Matthews, believes the virus is dangerous and deadly, but said the state restrictions are killing people’s livelihoods and having other alternate, serious effects.

Bride is in the process of building an outdoor, covered area at his business. It has cost him about $50,000, and he says he is lucky that’s something he can afford.

“We have radiant heaters running the length of our pavilion,” he pointed out. “Considering the restrictions we’re under, this is an investment that needed to be done.”

Bride believes COVID restrictions are necessary, but said they should be applied fairly and in a way that can allow his industry to survive.

State Representative Jason Nemus says he’s been trying to find out why businesses like Bride’s receive stricter mandates than others and says he’s been trying to get the data from the state for weeks.

“We’ve been asking for that proof and that proof has not been forthcoming,” Nemus said. “Those things, they should be on a sheet that you can just look at and that you do look at all the time.”

Beshear said there’s a bigger picture people should be focusing on instead.

“All of the public health officials everywhere can tell us the most likely places to spread,” he said. “We have got to be able to accept that and not simply argue on, ‘Well now give me this, now give me that.’”

While the specific contact tracing data may not exist, for business owners like Bride, the restrictions do.

“It’s an absolute tragedy for people to lose everything they have through no fault of their own,” he said.

A Louisville Health Department spokesperson told WAVE 3 News contact tracing has come a long way but didn’t say if the categories have changed yet or how specific the data is now.

Wednesday, Dr. Moyer provided numbers of where people said they traveled to two days before testing positive. However, Beshear said those numbers do not necessarily show where the virus was spread.

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