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Louisville's High Rate Of COVID-19 Cases Creates Risk Ahead Of Winter

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

An increase in COVID-19 cases shows that Louisville could be on the brink of an uncontrolled outbreak, setting the stage for an increasingly dangerous winter, particularly for those who are most vulnerable to the virus.

The number of coronavirus cases in the city began trending upward in mid-September and have plateaued over the last two weeks at about 1,300 cases per week.

While Louisville's overall positivity rate has gone down over the last two weeks, the city has reported about 24 infections for every 100,000 residents, just shy of the 25 cases per 100,000 people the White House considers an "uncontrolled outbreak."

The current level of infection has positioned the city at a precarious starting point as it heads into the coldest months of the year, says University of Louisville School of Medicine Vice Dean for Research Dr. Jon Klein.

During a city-sponsored town hall on Saturday, Klein said he anticipates transmission will increase in winter months as people spend more time indoors.

“Most of what I see is a little concerning, that as we head into these winter months that we are at a higher rate, or a higher spot for the takeoff of the pandemic in the community than we were back in the spring,” Klein said.

The U.S. is facing yet another wave of coronavirus infection with cases rising rapidly across the Midwest. This wave has so far hit rural areas particularly hard with uncontrolled infections spreading through Wisconsin, the Dakotas and much of the mountain west.

Rural counties in Kentucky are now seeing the highest rates of infection in the state, though metropolitan areas continue to see the highest numbers of overall cases, according to state data.

Louisville has reported nearly 21,000 cases since the pandemic came to Kentucky in March, though during the town hall, Mayor Greg Fischer said the numbers of actual cases are likely twice as high due to the amount that go unreported.

COVID-related hospitalizations have increased slightly in the last week, but remain around 10.2% of all patients in city hospitals, Fischer said. There were 39 patients with COVID-19 in an intensive care unit as of Saturday — 25 of which are on ventilators.

There remains plenty of hospital capacity, Fischer said.

Fischer also announced five new deaths this week, bringing the city's total to 350 COVID-related fatalities.

Despite the worrying trends, Klein with University of Louisville School of Medicine said there are still reasons to be optimistic.

“There is hope on the horizon,” Klein said.

The overall mortality rate has declined thanks to innovative treatments and techniques as frontline healthcare workers learn on job, Klein said.

Klein said it is likely that several vaccines will be available in 2021, and because vaccines are already in production ahead of their approval, there could be millions of doses available.

“Vaccines are coming, probably several different vaccines, and in really significant availability thanks to this Operation Warp Speed,” Klein said.

KIein himself is a subject in the Pfizer vaccine trial. He reported a sore arm and some brief flu-like symptom as a result of the vaccine, a side effect he said he was willing to endure.

Klein suspects he got an actual dosage of the vaccine, but said because of the nature of blind trials, he can’t be sure.

Ryan Van Velzer is WFPL's Energy and Environment Reporter. Email Ryan at rvanvelzer@lpm.org.

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