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With health departments strained, COVID-19 patients are asked to do their own contact tracing

Contact tracing
Posted at 1:52 PM, Jan 05, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-05 13:52:13-05

A rise in COVID-19 cases across the country is putting a strain on contract tracing efforts, which has forced some local health departments to ask people to do their own self-exposure notifications.

“What health departments are essentially saying is, if you test positive or diagnosed with COVID-19, it's possible that you won't hear from us,” said Dr. Angela Beck, a clinical assistant professor at the University of Michigan. “We just don't have enough staff to keep up with all the calls that need to be made. So here's what you need to do: We need you to self-isolate. Here are some tips for doing that safely. Think about the people who may have exposed in a certain time period and notify them of their exposure.”

Beck says that local health departments have hired more contact tracers since the pandemic arrived in the spring. But along with the rise in COVID-19 cases, those workers — who are primarily on short-term contracts and already stretched thin — are now helping with vaccine distribution, too.

According to Beck, asking COVID-19 patients to do their own exposure notification isn’t the preferred strategy, but it’s better than no information.

Still, she says things can be missed by not having a public health worker involved.

“We miss out on the opportunity to link community members to needed resources,” Beck said, “We miss out on the ability to ask the questions about symptom monitoring or quarantine or to calm some fears, and importantly, we miss out on the ability to do complete tracking of virus transmission.”

She expects local health departments will need contact tracers for several more months.

She adds that the public can help ease the strain by following all public health measures, like wearing a mask when outside the home.

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Data from The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University.