Hampton Roads' contact tracers unable to keep up with surge in COVID-19 cases

Contact tracing
Posted at 1:39 PM, Jan 07, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-07 23:11:57-05

HAMPTON ROADS, Va. - It plays a vital role in monitoring the omicron variant, the symptoms, the outbreak and the age group.

It's called contact tracing - a critical tool in the fight against COVID-19 - but the problem right now with the surge is contact tracers in Hampton Roads simply can't keep up.

"We are overwhelmed because the positive cases are outnumbering the number of contacts we can make a day ," said Lisa Engle, an epidemiologist with Chesapeake Public Health. "We only have about 10 to 15 investigators able to do the contact tracing and [they're] only able to handle couple hundred calls a day," she said.

On Friday, Engle said the Chesapeake Health Department had 1,000 positive cases return - but there's no way they can make all those calls in a day.

"We have shortened the script, so it's less complicated. Now, we are prioritizing by age, trying to get school-age kids because they are going to school," said Engle.

In Virginia Beach, it's the same problem, as the percent positivity rate there is hovering around 40%.

"Our daily cases have increased tenfold over the past four weeks; doubled over the past two weeks over the holiday season," said Dr. Caitlin Pedati, public health director.

Just like in Chesapeake, they can't make all the calls, so they are focusing on certain populations and trying to get the broadest reach beyond just a phone call.

"We are focusing on the vulnerable community, outbreak settings and school settings, and finding ways to broadly share information, like letters or automated messages, and we are also using the CovidWise app," she said.

In most of these cases, public health calls the positive patient, then they have to make the calls themselves to those they exposed to lessen the burden on the tracer. Both departments say getting vaccinated or boosted would help to lessen their workload.

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