Editor’s Note: This article was supplemented by notes that were taken during the May 21, 2020 webinar provided by the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, featuring Governor Beshear and Mark Carter, discussing plans for the launch of the State’s contact tracing program.
While speaking virtually to the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, Gov. Beshear noted that the initial models suggested as many as 80,000 Kentuckians could be infected by COVID-19. However, he said Kentuckians’ social distancing and other positive efforts have flattened the curve. Gov. Beshear also stated that flattening the curve came at a cost, but he believes the economic hardship is only temporary. The reopening of the economy will help the recovery so long as we do it in a sustainable manner.
Testing and tracing will be critical to preventing a second outbreak. Gov. Beshear stated that we cannot politicize these two necessary steps. Our community and business leaders must promote testing and tracing so that we can protect each other. If there is an attempt to politicize these measures, the Governor asks that we push them aside. He said that both the National Governors Association and the White House are promoting the practice of testing and tracing as well.
“We are at a place that we always dreamed that we would be,” said Gov. Beshear. As of May 21, 2020, Kentucky has enough capacity to do 2.5 times the White House recommended testing each month. The new challenge is getting people tested so that we can identify asymptomatic individuals. According to the kycovid19.ky.gov webpage, there are now over 150 testing locations throughout the state. The Governor urged everyone to get tested as Kentucky continues with reopening under the Healthy at Work plan. See our article, The Kentucky “Healthy at Work” Phased Reopening.
Contact tracing, which is funded through the CARES Act, is expanding to meet both the White House and Governor’s benchmarks for safely reopening the economy. On May 18, 2020, Gov. Beshear announced the appointment of Mark Carter as executive adviser leading the contact tracing efforts in the Office of the Secretary of the Cabinet for Health and Family Services (CHFS) and in coordination with the Department of Public Health. Carter said the expanded seven-month contact tracing program combines public participation and the power of technology to help public health officials and health care providers contain the spread of COVID-19. The information provided is kept completely private and confidential. Information regarding the individuals who have COVID-19 and people they have made in-person contact with recently is not released or made public.
Overview of Contact Tracing Process:
Kentucky is not currently using a COVID-19 contact tracing mobile app as part of its tracing efforts, but rather is using human-led efforts to track the Coronavirus in the community. Employed individuals in the program will utilize contact tracing technology to collect and manage the data essential to identifying individuals exposed to COVID-19 in order to reduce the risk of transmission in the community. Most individuals with COVID-19 are entered in the contact tracing technology via reports by healthcare providers who are responsible for reporting all positive COVID-19 tests to their local health departments. The local health department will enter COVID-19 positive cases into the contact tracing technology for follow-up by the contact tracing team.
Three key positions will carry out the mission of the contact tracing program: Disease Investigators; Contact Tracers; and Social Support Coordinators. The Disease Investigator is responsible for calling individuals who have COVID-19, confirming their lab results, verifying their isolation needs, and asking about potential contacts. The Contact Tracer is responsible for calling the individuals who have been exposed to COVID-19, providing information, and accessing their risks. The contacts will be classified as low, medium, or high risk, dependent upon the extent of the contacts. This will help determine whether or not the contact should be isolated for a period of 14 days. Carter emphasized that the identity of the COVID-19 patient will not be disclosed to the individuals with whom that patient has been in contact. Finally, the Social Support Coordinator helps support indicated needs of individuals who must self-isolate, such as food, child-care and contacting employers. Although several of the key positions have been onboarded already, Carter said that additional applicants are being sought.
Business Community Support is Critical
Both Governor Beshear and Carter said that the cooperation of businesses will be critical to the success of the contact tracing program. Businesses should make their employees aware that they may be contacted by a public health worker to gather information regarding a COVID-19 patient. Employers can also help employees understand the importance of answering that public health worker’s call. Carter said that the role each employee plays in contact tracing is critical to protecting the ones we care about, our friends, family and co-workers. Employers should help employees understand that the focus of contact tracing is on keeping folks well. Carter used the following slide to lay out the key roles employers play in contact tracing:
The public can watch a video illustrating how Kentucky’s contact tracing program will work. The state has provided the following additional resources helpful to employers in emphasizing to employees the important role that contact tracing plays on containing the virus to keep Kentuckians safe and businesses open:
- Contact Tracking Frequently Asked Questions
- What is Contact Tracing—A Confidential Public Health Resource
- Contact Tracing Infographic
Questions and Answers from the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce Webinar:
What happens to the data from tracing and who has access to it?
Flexibility has been added to HIPAA to balance privacy protections while ensuring that health care providers appropriately share information with the CDC, family members of patients, first responders and others, to help address the COVID-19 emergency. Contacts will only be informed that they may have been exposed to a patient with the infection, and the name of the patient will not be disclosed to the contacts. The information will be destroyed in accordance with relevant regulations.
If someone comes in contact with me and I am contacted by a contact tracer who asks me to stay home from work, could I be eligible for unemployment once again?
The unemployment insurance coverage was expanded by executive order. However, the Governor’s Office is continuing to look into an executive order to address this specific issue.
How can people apply for these positions?
There will be a link on the kycovid19.ky.gov website which provides staffing agencies that help identify candidates based upon region. Hopefully this link will be up by the close of business May 22, 2020.
How are we addressing schools specifically?
School districts have been asked to come up with plans for several different scenarios that can be anticipated. The Governor met with several district officials on May 21, 2020 to discuss implementing a similar plan tailored for schools.
How will contact tracing apply to healthcare workers?
Most healthcare providers have their own testing procedures. However, the same mechanism for contact tracing will apply.
In a Kentucky Chamber poll, 81% of respondents said that they are ready to return to normal.
Despite the desire to return to “normal,” as Governor Beshear has emphasized in his daily 5PM updates, until there is an effective vaccine readily available to everyone, Kentuckians cannot let up the good work they have done so far to help contain the virus. For the duration of the state of emergency, businesses should follow both the Minimum Requirements that apply to all businesses, organizations and recreational activities as well as the additional applicable specific requirements as set forth on Kentucky’s Healthy at Work webpage.