Contact Tracing: A vital step in controlling the spread of COVID-19

RALEIGH (WTVD) -- More than 250 people across North Carolina are working to track down contacts from newly diagnosed COVID-19 patients and monitor the health of those contacts.

A spokesperson for the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services said that when a person tests positive for COVID-19, contact tracers help identify who that individual was in contact with so they can get tested and take the appropriate precautions so they don't infect others.

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Before Wake County shifted to community transmission, the county had 25 contact tracers a day dedicated to COVID-19.

Now, there are less, about three to five a day, said Wake County Emergency Operations Center Manager Darshan Patel. He said that's because with community transmission, it becomes tougher to find out exactly where people are exposed.

"At that time, our contact tracers were doing tracing on every single positive contact we had in Wake County," Patel said. "Whereas now, as we've seen, spread in our community and we have what we call community transmission, they're only doing that tracing for our high-risk population as well as our first-responders and medical personnel."

Wake County used contact tracers after somebody who went to the LEGO Convention tested positive and after somebody who went to a concert at PNC Arena tested positive.

Since the LEGO convention, officials have contact traced 553 cases, while 29 cases have been tracked from the PNC Arena concert.

"It really did help us understand who, specifically, was a close contact and then, more importantly, being in touch with them to make sure they understood that they may have been in close contact with a positive case, and now there are some actions that they would need to take, per public health requests and per public health requirements," Patel said.

Patel said that when Wake County eases restrictions, more people will be out and about again and that means there will be more risk for transmission.
"We will then have to very aggressively go back to this containment methodology we were using before where for every positive case, we are then contacting their contacts, doing the tracing, doing the investigations on a case-by-case basis," Patel said. "So we are looking to ramp up that staff."

NCDHHS Secretary Mandy Cohen said during a news conference this week that the state will partner with a private company to ramp up its contact tracing workforce. They'll need to hire, train and deploy more workers to start lifting restrictions.

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In an email, a spokesperson with the Durham County Department of Public Health said they are working with several of their community partners to work through plans to expand their ability to conduct contact tracing.

A spokesperson for the Alamance County Health Department said in an email that they have a seven-member team that can be scaled up or down depending on the response needed. They began with a 2-member team.

A Johnston County spokesperson said in an email that they have staff members who have been trained to conduct contact tracing and that the number of staff performing tracing can vary day-to-day.

Wake County said that in addition to contact tracing, testing is another vital step to understanding the virus and controlling its spread in our community.
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