Health investigators across the United States find it nearly impossible to catch up with the new COVID-19 flood and carry out contact tracing efforts that were once considered a pillar of the country’s pandemic response. I am.
The state is hiring new staff and looking for volunteers to raise the ranks of contact tracers who are overwhelmed by the coronavirus surge.
In some states, contact tracing teams were formed this spring and summer when virus counts were declining and are currently scrambling to train new investigators. Others have triaged the team to focus on the most vulnerable people, such as schools and incidents involving children who are too young to be vaccinated.
Texas has gone out of business altogether, and a new two-year state budget coming into force on September 1 has explicitly banned funds used for contact tracing.
It’s left to local health authorities, but they can’t keep up when Texas has an average of more than 16,000 new cases a day.
Mississippi has 150 staff working full-time to identify those who have had close contact with infected people, who are also overwhelmed.
“In many cases, by the time a case is reported, the infection has already occurred by the time the person is reached,” said state epidemiologist Dr. Paul Byers.
Since the outbreak of the pandemic, the state has relied on contact tracing practices to track, notify, and monitor those exposed to those who test positive for the coronavirus.
Dr. Yvonne Maldonado, a professor of global health and infectious diseases at Stanford University School of Medicine, said that contact tracing can be time consuming, but especially if one person can expose many people. To prevent. ” Additional case. “
Maldonado said this is a “public health staple” and could be the only way someone knows that a stranger may have been exposed to illness.
Contact tracing reactions vary from state to state throughout the pandemic.
With a strong team, New York coordinated contract tracking staff for the pandemic wave. The state had more than 8,000 contract tracers in February and March of this year, but now has 3,860 staff working on contract tracking. This does not include New York City, which has its own $ 600 million tracking initiative with thousands of staff.
Arkansas has hired two external companies to handle the state’s investigations: General Dynamics Information Technology and the Arkansas Foundation for Medical Care. Currently, there are about 257 employees working, each trying to add about 100 more.
In another virus hotspot, Louisiana, state officials have added 130 staff members working on contact tracing in recent weeks. Currently, more than 560 people are working on tracking.
At Idaho, the new public health website VolunteerIdaho.com encourages people with health care skills or the simple willingness to volunteer for the Idaho Medical Reserve.Some of the volunteers they are looking for can do contact tracing and data entry.
Health officials are unable to track all cases due to the overwhelming number of new cases, instead trying to focus on infections that may have exposed large numbers of people or vulnerable groups. Say there is.
In the case of Alabama. Dr. Karen Landers of the Alabama Department of Health said her agency encourages people in close contact to be notified if the test results are positive or according to quarantine and quarantine guidelines. , Health Department, larger outbreaks, clusters, and group settings.
In Nevada, investigators are prioritizing efforts focused on cases involving children and schools, according to Julia Peak, deputy director of community health services at the Nevada Department of Health.
In Texas, Governor Greg Abbott last year approved a $ 295 million deal with the company to perform state contact tracing, a conservative backlash and a deal with the state legislature. It wasn’t the session that caused a lawsuit from a legislature who said the governor had exceeded his authority by approving.
Abbott eventually won the proceedings, but contact tracing funds were stripped from the new budget.
Local governments say they are continuing their efforts and increasing staff as the number of incidents increases. In Austin, for example, about 50 investigators at the local health department worked on contact tracing during peak pandemics.
But when the number of incidents diminished, they reduced their staff to twelve, a spokesman for Austin Public Health told Matt Lara.
In California, state workers were dispatched to assist the county health department team working on contract tracking. At the peak of the pandemic, about 2,800 people were working on the effort in Los Angeles County until this spring, when incidents began to decline, said True Beck, a public health worker who manages a team of county contract tracers. ..
According to Beck, in the spring some staff were relocated to make phone calls recommending vaccination, while others were returned to normal work in other county departments, but recently they recalled people. , About 1,000 people are working.
She said the work was relentless and a phone call that could last an hour could be emotional. Workers making contract tracking calls not only help people learn what to do to keep themselves and others safe, but they are scared, lonely, sad, and pay rent. You can hear from people who need help, such as getting food or getting food. According to Beck, the team’s staff are trying to help people and connect with other resources.
“It’s hard to call the perfect stranger every day,” she said.
She said people weren’t as keen on talking and interviewing as they were in the early days of the pandemic when there were more fears and unknowns about the virus.
“I think people are a little tired of COVID now. Frankly, I think we are all.”