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Two years after the city’s first COVID-19 case, Louisville leaders urge continued caution

A worker at Broadbent Arena talks with a patient in a drive-through COVID-19 vaccination line before.
A volunteer nurse at the Broadbent Arena vaccination site prepares to give a JCPS school nurse their first dose of the coronavirus vaccine on Jan. 8 2021.

Louisville health leaders detected the city’s first COVID-19 case on March 8, 2020. A few weeks later, the city saw its first death from the virus. 

Since then, there have been more than 225,000 cases identified in Jefferson County, and more than 2,100 deaths. 

During a weekly COVID briefing, Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer looked back on two years of battling the disease’s spread.

He said while vaccines started to provide relief when they became available to the general public last spring, the delta surge in fall and omicron surge in winter led to more sickness and death, straining many hospitals in the state. 

“Of course COVID-19 is unlike anything that we’ve seen in our lifetime, but it was the 2021 spring [and] summer months and interacting in what we thought was sort of normalcy, that we said, ‘OK, maybe we’re beyond the virus,’” Fischer said. “Well, the virus obviously had different plans.”

Jefferson County has, along with the state, seen a rapid decline in cases, positivity and hospitalizations over the past month compared to the rise of omicron in December and January. 

As of Tuesday, the county dashboard reported just over 1,100 new cases last week and 54 deaths. That’s compared with over 16,000 weekly cases in early to mid-January. 

An average of 7% of local staffed inpatient beds were filled by COVID patients over the past week. That’s a metric the county is now using as part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s new community level model for determining spread of disease. 

Jefferson County is also in the yellow — or the medium level of viral spread — on the statewide map that tracks community COVID activity. The map changed last week to use the CDC model, which puts more emphasis on hospital capacity than the number of new cases. 

The map uses three colors, with green being the lowest level of disease activity and red the highest, to indicate where counties align with CDC guidance on measures like mask usage while in public, including in schools. 

Residents in yellow counties are encouraged to consider universal masking in indoor congregate settings, and those individuals at high risk for severe disease if they get COVID should consider wearing a well-fitting mask in all indoor settings. 

Local health officials said Tuesday that “high risk” likely makes up a greater part of the population than most people think, and can include those who are overweight or who have been smokers. 

For all three color categories, vaccination is recommended, as is staying home if sick. 

Dr. SarahBeth Hartlage, associate medical director at the Louisville Metro Department of Public Health and Wellness, said even if the numbers are lower than before, “people are still being impacted by this virus, people are still being hospitalized, still having long term effects, and of course we have fatalities from this virus as well.”

“It’s easy to think that this is all over and it's really tempting to think that we won’t have to think about COVID anymore but we really know that that’s not the case,” she said.

Fischer said the city may soon have less frequent COVID briefings, as new case numbers have dropped. Gov. Andy Beshear said Monday he would likely pause his weekly briefing after next week, if cases remained on a downward trend. 


Aprile Rickert is LPM's Southern Indiana reporter. Email Aprile at arickert@lpm.org.