New Challenges Make Contact Tracing More Essential

Not only are more people in Colorado back to work, but they are traveling across the state and spending time with others in small groups. Each scenario allows for more opportunity to be exposed to the virus and spread it.

Local and state health officials agree that contact tracing is more important than ever in the fight against the coronavirus, but not all agencies are able to quickly reach patients who test positive to help them stop the spread. A change in restrictions and the increase in sources for testing are adding to the challenge of contact tracing.

“It’s extremely important because we want to make sure that we’re letting people know their results,” said Annie Nolan, a public health nurse supervisor with Jefferson County Public Health. “With contact tracing, one of the huge effects of the amount of effort we have to do is with the change in the Stay-at-Home order to Safer-at-Home to now thinking about Protecting Your Neighbor.”

Nolan is on the epidemiology team responding to COVID-19 and is a deputy branch director. She was part of the investigation into the first case of coronavirus in Jefferson County. Their health department is interviewing 85% of their positive patients within 24 hours. But the challenge is that some patients do not learn their results until days or even weeks after got they tested. In some cases, the health department informs a patient of their positive result before the test administrator.

“All of that has really changed the amount of contacts that individuals have,” she told CBS4 Thursday on video conference call. “Especially as we’re increasing encounters, we did have a few holidays that went by.”

Staff with the Colorado State Joint Information Center told CBS4 that 50 contact tracers were hired to assist with the process at the state level. They also have more than 800 volunteers with AmeriCorps and Senior Corps available to help trace the spread. The state has a goal of contacting 85 percent of patients within 24 hours but staff told CBS4 they have not reached that standard. They do know that the state has contacted 78% of all positive patients in Colorado.

“Contact tracing, which is ramping up now, is a very important public health tool,” said. Dr. Jon Samet, an epidemiologist and dean of the Colorado School of Pubic Health. “How well we do this makes a difference in terms of the number of people we trace and how quickly we trace them.”

Samet spoke at a news conference with Gov. Jared Polis reiterating the importance of wearing masks, social distancing and limiting the number of people in groups, as well as contact tracing. They also announced a new website for the public to access data related to the virus in Colorado.

“Our team is not only providing education and information but we’re also linking people to resources within the community,” Nolan said.

The opportunity to collect data has also become a chance to make sure people know about the ways they can spread COVID-19 and how they can get help with not only the health side but the economic impact. As the summer continues with the impact of major holidays like July 4th still unknown, Nolan believes her county will have the surge capacity needed if cases rise dramatically. She wants to reiterate that anyone contacted by a health official about the Coronavirus should rest assured their personal data is protected.

“All the information shared with us as part of an exposure notification is kept confidential, personal health information is never shared,” she said.

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