Local health departments doing contact tracing to slow spread of COVID-19

Posted at 6:55 PM, May 13, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-13 19:05:42-04

COLLIER COUNTY, Fla. Tracking down COVID-19. Local health departments say they’re not just tallying the number of confirmed cases, but getting ahold of everyone’s who’s made contact with those patients via contact tracing.

Contact tracing involves calling patients’ families, friends and even acquaintances if they’ve come within six feet of them for more than ten minutes.

Robert Hawkes, the Director for the Physician Assistant Program at Florida Gulf Coast University said contact tracing

“Which person did they come into contact with, and then how quickly is that person who has the virus able to spread it to others,” he said.

The number of COVID-19 cases in Southwest Florida is at 2,763 as of Wednesday. One-third of them are in Collier County.

864 may not sound like a lot compared to other counties, but Kristine Hollingsworth with the Department of Health in Collier County says their tracing net spans pretty wide there.

“We’ve contacted over 2300 individuals for contact tracing alone,” she said.

They have about 20 trained staff members calling everyone who’s made contact with patients within the first two days of showing symptoms. Hollingsworth said that’s when they’re most contagious.

“People may be able to self-monitor and not self-isolate, others may be asked to self-isolate. If they’re symptomatic they will be asked to be tested,” she said.

Hawkes says this is the first time health professionals are seeing a pandemic at this magnitude.

“We’re really not ramped up to be able to trace the entire population. That’s why a lot of facilities are seeing if you’re not symptomatic, then just kind of self-quarantine, kind of monitor yourself,” he said.

A spokesperson for the Lee County DOH says they’ve multiplied their tracing staff from four to 41. They’ve contacted about 3,945 individuals who’ve been in close proximity with COVID patients so far.

Hawkes said the number of trained staff they have is substantial. Other counties like Charlotte only have seven trained tracer.

“The hard part is getting people to be able to do this, and getting people trained enough to go do contact tracing,” said Hawkes.

The Ohio DOH went as far as hiring an outside agency. They’re going from a few hundred on staff to nearly 2,000 tracking down possible cases.

Hawkes says it may be frustrating getting a call from a physician warning you to stay at home, but it could better prepare doctors the next time coronavirus comes around, which could be this upcoming summer or fall.