LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Metro government plans to begin inspecting large employers, retailers, community events, private clubs and other places for COVID-19 practices as Louisville remains at a high level for coronavirus infections.
And city health officials also intend to publish a "violation list" online showing businesses and organizations that aren't following face covering and Gov. Andy Beshear's "Healthy at Work" guidelines.
By monitoring establishments that typically aren’t visited by health inspectors, Mayor Greg Fischer’s administration hopes to address conditions that could be helping the illness spread, such as crowded areas. Public health officials consider Louisville to have a “critical” rate of new cases, with at least 25 daily cases per 100,000 people.
The new directive includes large businesses; spas; retail outlets; community events; and country clubs, among others, said Nicholas Hart, environmental health manager with the Louisville Metro Department of Public Health & Wellness.
“We want you all to know that we’re going to be visiting,” he told reporters during a media briefing Tuesday. “We’re going to be observing your operations, especially those operations that are customer-forward, serving the public on a regular basis.”
If there are any violations, Hart said, inspectors will conduct follow-up reviews.
Hart also said the department will stop “pretty much all” of its routine inspections in order to focus on compliance with coronavirus standards, “because COVID is the primary concern that we have in our community that it’s affecting our public health right now.”
Duties such as food-borne illness investigations, indoor air quality inspections and school inspections will continue, he said, although others will be paused to focus on COVID compliance.
Greater Louisville Inc., the metro area chamber of commerce, was still learning the specifics of Tuesday's announcement, spokeswoman Olivia Sievert said in a statement.
"We will be facilitating conversations with city and public health leaders in the coming days to understand enforcement practices and implications on the business community," she said.
The chamber continues to encourage businesses to follow public health requirements, she said. And while many businesses face significant challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic, "masking up, practicing social distancing and following recommendations are the best ways we can move toward a swift economic recovery for our region," she said.
Routine restaurant and grocery food inspections, tattoo and piercing shop inspections and indoor smoking complaint investigations are among the activities that will be suspended, according to the health department.
Hart also said inspectors will be “quadrupling” the amount of time on establishments that operate at night and on the weekends and see large numbers of people gather. A health department spokeswoman said those may include bars, restaurants, entertainment venues and stores that expand their hours during the holidays.
“We’re not trying to disrupt business, but we also are trying to get a realistic idea of what it looks like during the times we see the most people out in our community,” Hart said.
Louisville confirmed 2,300 new cases of COVID-19 last week, health department data show. The average two-week positivity rate – 6.7% -- has remained mostly steady, although it is “too high and it means that we are missing new cases,” said Dr. Sarah Moyer, the city’s health department director and chief health strategist.
Everyone is at risk of catching the virus or spreading it, she said.
COVID-19 is “still a major threat to our community,” Fischer said. He is advising people to cancel events and not host or attend large gatherings, as well as avoiding nonessential activities.
Fischer also said he’s not concerned that the KFC Yum! Center is scheduled to reopen for University of Louisville basketball games Nov. 25, the largest indoor event space to resume operations since the pandemic began earlier this year.
Arena officials have agreed to limit attendance to 15% of the building’s capacity, as well as premium seats such as luxury suites. Masks and social distancing also will be required.
“As long as they’re spaced appropriately, and as long as they’re not bunched up when they’re coming into the Yum! Center, it should be fine,” Fischer said. “If they don’t follow those practices, obviously that’s a danger.”
This story may be updated.
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“As the regional chamber of commerce, Greater Louisville Inc. continues to encourage businesses to follow all public health requirements. Compliance with best practices is key to keeping our workforce safe and keeping our economy running during this uncertain time. We understand many businesses face significant challenges because of the pandemic, however masking up, practicing social distancing and following recommendations are the best ways we can move toward a swift economic recovery for our region.”