Virginia Department of Health refocusing efforts, phases out contact tracing due to rapid spread of COVID-19

Contact tracing
Posted at 6:05 PM, Jan 30, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-30 18:05:36-05

RICHMOND, Va. - The Virginia Department of Health is phasing out contact tracing.

The agency announced it is changing from attempting to investigate every case of COVID-19 and trace all contacts to focusing on the follow-up of outbreaks and cases in high-risk settings. Health officials say this response is more effective when a virus spreads very easily and quickly and many infected people do not have symptoms.

Omicron is now the most common COVID-19 variant and is spreading so quickly it is not possible or fruitful to track every case. Thanks to effective COVID-19 vaccines, most people getting infected with Omicron have mild illness.

However, Omicron is causing a very high number of cases, and due to the sheer number of cases, the state health department says it is straining Virginia’s health care system.

“COVID-19 continues to spread across the Commonwealth in high volumes, and Virginians should act quickly when illness is suspected. Please get tested, stay home when you are infectious, and notify your contacts,” said Acting State Health Commissioner Colin M. Greene, MD, MPH.

VDH encourages individuals to take appropriate actions if they suspect or confirm a COVID-19 infection. Information on testing locations and guidance on how individuals can notify their close contacts are available on the VDH website. Tools like COVIDWISE, Virginia’s COVID-19 exposure notification app, allow Virginians with a positive result to anonymously notify others who may have been exposed.

Public health staff will prioritize responding to COVID-19 clusters and outbreaks in long-term care facilities and other congregate settings, healthcare settings, and other high-risk settings, and will focus follow-up with individuals most at risk for negative health effects from COVID-19. VDH will continue to partner with K-12 schools on prevention strategies to reduce spread in schools so schools can remain open and safe.

VDH’s contact tracing program has played a critical role in protecting Virginians when vaccines and treatments were not available and remains an important tool in the COVID-19 response. Since September 2020, public health staff in Virginia have completed more than 750,000 case investigations, notified more than 400,000 close contacts and responded to more than 6,500 outbreaks.

Public health staff provide invaluable support and linkage to services to help people isolate and quarantine safely. VDH’s current staff are still critical in the fight against COVID-19 and are needed to continue with tracking COVID-19 and ensuring an adequate public health response.

VDH says while this new direction makes the most sense now, the virus that causes COVID-19 continues to mutate. As new variants emerge, the way the virus affects us could change, and Virginia’s prevention strategies would need to be adapted to keep everyone safe.

Health officials say the best way to protect yourself from serious illness and hospitalization from COVID-19 is to get vaccinated. If you have not gotten vaccinated or boosted and are eligible, you are encouraged to do so now.

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

To find a vaccine or an appointment at a Community Vaccination Center (CVC) or another location near you, visit or call 877-VAX-IN-VA (877-829-4682, TTY users call 7-1-1). Assistance is available in English, Spanish and more than 100 other languages. Walk-ins are welcome at CVCs, but appointments are encouraged to avoid extended wait times.

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