Testing, contact tracing are planned to thwart spread of virus as economy opens; Beshear says public needs to ‘buy in,’ get tested

University of Illinois at Chicago graphic illustrates the
spread of disease and the trails followed by contact tracing.
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By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News

As Kentucky begins to reopen its economy, increased testing and contact tracing are the primary lines of defense to suppress a resurgence of the coronavirus and its covid-19 disease.

Gov. Andy Beshear says the state is more than able to do the recommended 2 percent of testing that is called for in White House guidance to re-open the economy, which amounts to almost 21,000 tests per week, or almost 3,000 a day, counting weekends.

It recorded about 5,700 a day last week, but Beshear says it will remain a challenge to persuade Kentuckians to get tested.

“I believe that we can get there, but it’s also going to take the public buying in,” the governor said Friday. In many states, “testing capacity outstrips the supply of patients,” The Washington Post reports.

Testing leads to contact tracing, tracking down people who have been in contact with an infected person, then asking them and their contacts to isolate for two weeks, the incubation period for the virus.

Beshear says the state is preparing to hire more than 700 people to help with contact tracing and is scheduled to say more about the effort on Monday. He said Friday:

“Now those that are ready for the economy to re-open, great. But the only way to do it, and this is coming from the White House, from the president himself, from the experts they have for our public health, is testing plus tracing,” he said. “So the only way to do it safely is people have got to be willing to test, and then on the tracing — you have to be willing to pick up the phone when your local health department or the state calls. . . . That’s the only way this works.”

Beshear added that it will take some time to integrate the new tracers with local health departments, which have long done contact tracing and have been doing it as they can during the pandemic. Local health directors voiced concern that they weren’t consulted before the plan was announced.

“We are all on the same team,” Beshear said, “and it’s just going to take making sure that everybody knows that this is a support role that we are going to provide to them.”

Phil Pendleton of Lexington’s WKYT-TV visited the Anderson County Health Department, which has traced the contacts of the county’s nine coronavirus cases and asked their more than 100 contacts to quarantine for 14 days.

“I think it has helped keep the numbers down in Anderson County and has slowed the spread of the virus,” Tim Wright, director of the department, told Pendleton.

The health department has the support of the county attorney and first responders if the need arises for assistance if people are not willing to self-isolate, but so far that has not been necessary, Wright told Pendleton.