FRANKFORT, Ky. (LEX 18) — After Gov. Andy Beshear issued new COVID-19 restrictions in November, Republican lawmakers criticized the decision to close certain businesses, like restaurants, down. They claimed the governor's contact tracing program didn't provide the data to suggest the best move.
"Is [COVID-19] coming from restaurants? Is it coming from retail? Is it coming from social gatherings of family? When asked that question at our briefing, [the Beshear Administration] cannot give us those answers," said Senate President Robert Stivers.
Stivers increased his criticism of the contact tracing program on Wednesday. While discussing the odds of a state relief bill with LEX 18 News, Stivers said he would prefer to kill the contact tracing program and reallocate that money to assist businesses.
"Contact tracing has not been a good tool," said Stivers. "In fact, in our briefing - and that's what it was, a briefing - the governor basically said it'd been useless. If I'm not badly mistaken, it's a $120 million contract. We spent about $70 million, and we still don't have data as to why this surge is taking place."
"So, I would say kill the contract and take the other $40 million of that contract - because I think it was a $120 million contract - and put it back into a fund to help these businesses that are barely surviving, if at all going to survive, to help them," said Stivers.
On Tuesday, the Beshear administration highlighted the success of their contact tracing program. According to Mark Carter, the head of Kentucky's contact tracing program, more than 1,600 contact tracers have completed 215,000 daily check-ins with COVID-19-positive Kentuckians to monitor symptoms and provide support. Carter said the contact tracers have also contacted more than 47,000 people who may have been exposed to the virus.
Carter also emphasized a greater need for public cooperation with coronavirus mitigation efforts.
"We've really reached a point where we're being overwhelmed in terms of our disease investigation/contact tracing efforts," said Carter. "I think that is in part because we haven't had the level of compliance that we need to have with the public health recommendations around masking, and social distancing, and so forth."
The Kentucky Democratic Party responded to Stiver's comments about cutting the contact tracing program with the following statement:
“Gov. Beshear’s bold and decisive actions have undoubtedly saved the lives of countless of our fellow Kentuckians. Robust contact tracing is recommended by the White House and the CDC and is done by all 50 states," said Colmon Elridge, Chair of the Kentucky Democratic Party. "Gov. Beshear has also provided millions in relief directly to Kentuckians and is doing everything he can to guide Kentucky through the pandemic. The Governor, in building coalitions with regional Democratic and Republican governors, has shown how leaders from across the aisle have put the lives of the American people above partisanship. We invite Kentucky Republican leaders to do the same.”
Kentucky's coronavirus contact tracing program is funded by money from the CARES Act, and that money will run out soon.
“Another challenge is that federal funds from the CARES Act have made the statewide contact tracing and tracking information management system and surge staffing possible, but Congress has not taken any action on additional stimulus legislation to date," said Carter. "Currently, Kentucky and all other states are required to use all CARES Act funding by Dec. 30, 2020.”