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Louisville could see 900 more deaths if it reopens too soon, study says

The University of Louisville and Department of Health study said the city must have more testing and better contract tracing to reopen.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — A study done by the University of Louisville and the Louisville Metro Department of Public Health and Wellness projected Louisville could gradually reopen by early June but warned against reopening too quickly.

The study, which uses current data to project deaths and hospitalizations through August, showed the city's social distancing measures have significantly slowed the spread, but authors said Louisville must have more extensive testing and better contract tracing to work towards reopening.

“This model validates the measures we have put in place to control the spread of COVID-19 in Louisville thus far,” Department of Health Director Dr. Sarah Moyer said. “The study also serves as affirmation of our state and local efforts to slowly release restrictions.” 

The projections show the city could be able to gradually reopen by early June if there is more testing and contract tracing. Still, authors warned if the city pulls back from social distancing measures too soon, Louisville could see as many as 900 more deaths and 2,000 more hospitalizations by August.

“We know from our modeling that decreasing the current social distancing measures without increased efforts to test, isolate, and do contact tracing can move us to an unstable path with increased hospitalization and infection trends that could be catastrophic,” said Dr. Seyed Karimi, an assistant professor who co-authored the report.

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Mayor Greg Fischer said the data shows what health officials have been saying, that while the city is making progress, "we still have a long way to go." The city's state of emergency has been extended to June 1.

“Even as some restrictions are eased, we must stay focused and vigilant,” Fischer said. "It’s important that we not get our guard down against this dastardly disease.”

Researchers used the Susceptible-Exposed-Infectious-Recovered (SEIR) model, which measures the effect of public health policy interventions to contain an infection.

The authors considered two potential scenarios that estimated the current number of COVID-19 deaths in Louisville. The scenarios compare two different dates for when social distancing policies were implemented in Jefferson County: March 31 and April 7.

Then, they considered four alternative outcomes if social distancing and other strategies had been either weaker or stronger by 10 percent increments. Projections showed if stronger containment methods had been used, the transmission of the virus would have decreased to the point where the number of infections in June would have been in two digits. Conversely, lesser methods would have increased virus transmission.

The projections also show if Louisville continues on its path, the city has the hospital capacity to reopen without overflow. The numbers also suggest the Department of Health will need between 250 and 500 staff to properly investigate and do contact tracing.

To read the entire study, click here.

RELATED: UofL Health to expand COVID-19 testing in South Louisville

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