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Chad Coulter (LouVino, Biscuit Belly) took to his personal Facebook page on Friday and shared thoughts about the COVID-19 end game. He graciously has allowed us to rerun his letter in this space. It is thoughtful, reasoned and analytical; whether one agrees or not, Coulter offers a solid basis for discussion. 

Coulter and wife Lauren were pharmacists prior to entering the food and drink sector in 2012 with Uptown Art on Bardstown Road. You can read about what came next in the Summer 2019 issue of Food & Dining Magazine, where Susan Reigler profiled the Coulters and their restaurants.

Following are Coulter’s thoughts.

I’m sharing a letter I wrote and sent to several decision makers in Kentucky. I encourage other business owners to do this same. We can win the fight with the virus and open up our state in a smart way, simultaneously.

I am writing you today to discuss a situation of significance embedded within the COVID-19 pandemic in Kentucky—the secondary tragedy of the loss of security, stability, and safety of a large proportion of the population of our great Commonwealth. I am a Louisville resident, former pharmacist, entrepreneur, and owner of 8 total restaurants in Kentucky, Indiana, and Ohio. I first want to commend your team for the job done thus far in Kentucky in regards to the COVID-19 outbreak. The response has been quick and decisive based on the original knowledge of how bad the outbreak could have been. Most Kentuckians have rallied around Gov. Beshear and look forward to the daily briefings in cult-like fashion. Job well done there.

The human toll of the COVID-19 pandemic in Kentucky has been significant, with 129 deaths as of 4/16/20. When looking at the demographics of deaths, 111 deaths (91%) have occurred in patients older than 60. Unfortunately, Kentucky is a very unhealthy state so it is very likely that a large majority of these cases have had other risk factors playing into this as well. Despite this bad news, however, there is some silver lining. Unlike many pandemics of the past (most recently H1N1 influenza in 2009), it appears that young, healthy people, and children are largely spared of the significant morbidity and mortality often seen in older adults and those with preexisting conditions. While it is true that many of us may be (or have been) infected with the virus and been asymptomatic, the data show that the vast majority of those patients recover at home with little to no trouble.

The stated intent of “flattening the curve” and significant efforts to increase physical distancing was to not overrun our hospitals during the first wave and allow time to expand testing and build health-system capacity. We have largely been successful in these efforts in large part to yours and Gov Beshear’s leadership. With the data and current modeling and the fact that some hospitals in our state are reducing wages, furloughing workers (Kindred and Baptist, respectively) and in some cases in the U.S, closing their doors completely because of the lack of patients should make us think about our next steps and our ultimately strategy for keeping the disease manageable. Our state is currently still nowhere near hospital or ICU capacity to treat COVID-19 patients and these trends are predicted to continue. We have successfully flattened the curve and spared our healthcare system. Additionally, with the CDC guidance to encourage the use of masks and widespread adoption and respect for this guidance, the public has become aware and attuned to the individual strategies necessary to prevent transmission even from asymptomatic individuals.

The larger, secondary tragedy facing us now is the utter devastation that COVID-19 has taken on the economy of our great Commonwealth. The full economic toll is one that will likely not be known for quite some time, but it will be long-lasting and will likely permanently damage or disrupt large sections of the economy and the workforce. However, on a personal level, I know in talking to fellow business owners and employees that the future is somewhat grim. Every week that we suppress economic activity will have deeper and more severe damage that will be harder to survive. Because of this, suicide hotline calls are up 300%, domestic abuse reports are higher, and child abuse is likely going to be on the rise without schools or institutions like CPS ceasing doing house calls and checks. I see it daily on the Louisville restaurant industry network group on Facebook – people pleading for help due to depression, hunger, and financial anxiety. Studies show that financial success and security is one of the most important factors in a person’s mental health. In addition, state and local governments won’t have money to help support these less fortunate without business revenues. In Ohio, their Unemployment benefits program will be insolvent by mid-June, so financial stress could be even more disastrous if we fail to act now.

As of yesterday, we have officially lost 22 million jobs in the United States in one single month – a number that is still probably artificially low due to the fact that many people still haven’t been able to file. We need to have the conversations now and start the planning to reopen Kentucky’s economy by early May in a responsible manner. We are putting the lives of 4.5 million Kentuckians at risk to prevent a relatively small amount of deaths in a largely vulnerable population. Let’s protect that population with strict guidelines while also starting to reopen and continue to practice social distancing as much as possible. Let’s recommend that people continue to work at home if possible, let’s recommend masks in public, let’s get salons and spas up and running but require masks to be worn by the stylists. In restaurants, there are many things we can do such as spreading tables apart and extra sanitation measures to help prevent infection. These are just a few common-sense precautions that can be made to prevent the spread and for us to get on with our lives. We cannot live in fear of this virus forever – we have to make it manageable to prevent the collapse of our healthcare system and allow our residents to get back to work and resume economic prosperity. It is time that Kentucky continues to be the leader in flattening curves – both our COVID infections as well as our burgeoning unemployment rate.

Yesterday, President Trump announced his plan for reopening our economy and is leaving it up to yourself and Gov. Beshear as well as our local healthcare experts. One of those guidelines was a steady 14-day decline in infection rates. I want to warn you that if testing ramps up that we will almost certainly find more cases which will cause our trend to increase. Please do not let that deter you from starting to reopen Kentucky. It isn’t because there are more cases – it is only that we are detecting more cases which are largely being underreported and under-tested right now. Regardless of if we are trending down or are flat – the main thing we need to assess is the capacity of our hospitals, which again, we have plenty of capacity. We are averaging less than a 100 cases per day with a population of 4.5 million people. If the curve is flat or trending down is somewhat irrelevant if we are not testing enough. The fact that we have consistently had very few cases should warrant us to start planning and getting ready to reopen Kentucky.

Finally, I believe that almost all Kentuckians are ready to get back to some sort of normalcy – kids back in school, getting back to work, back to restaurants, haircuts, etc. There are a few extremists who are starting to protest at the capitol – please know that they are not representative of the majority of us who are ready to just get back to normal. We believe that continued steady leadership from you and Gov. Beshear with increasing daily focus on how to prevent the secondary tragedy of economic devastation from becoming worse can go a long way toward beginning the healing process from this unprecedented situation.

Thanks,

Chad Coulter