What a shortage of contact tracing means for the future of coronavirus

Writer: Drew Hill
Published: Updated:

Rebecca Pacter didn’t think it was possible for her to even contract the coronavirus. “I thought I was 17, I’m healthy, I’m Athletic how am I going to get this? I went to one party that was in CDC guidelines not even more than six people there and I walked away with it,” Pacter said.

But just one month ago, she tested positive. Now she’s COVID free, and while she is excited to start college in the fall, is still wondering why she hasn’t been contacted by a tracer.

Pacter thinks knowing where she got it and who she could’ve potentially given it to would be safer for everyone. “That would be really helpful in making sure that people are quarantining,” she said.

And Bindu Mayi, Microbiology professor with NOVA Southeastern, said there are probably a lot of people who tested positive that hasn’t been contacted. “People who are positive are not getting the phone calls,” said Mayi.

The reason for that could be that the rise in cases is leaving many tracers overwhelmed. “What makes this particular issue complicated it is the fact that we see asymptomatic transmission which means these individuals are contagious and yet they never develop symptoms,” Mayi said.

Another issue is, there are not enough contact tracers in the state for the number of positive cases. Currently, there are about 2,000 people at the Florida Department of health that are supposed to contact tracing every positive case in the state of Florida.

But “based on our population of Florida and based on the recommendation the number is greater than 6000 that we need.” “The National Association of city and county public health officials recommend a number of 30 per hundred thousand,” Mayi said.

Experts also say that contact tracers can’t do more than four cases per day for effective tracing.

In Southwest Florida, there are a total of 113 contact tracers located in Lee, Charlotte and Collier counties. The Department of Health is planning to partner with a health service company called Maximus to hire an additional 400 contact tracers and 200 disease investigators.

Officials with the Health Department hope to get even more contact tracers with funding from the CARES act. And Pacter is excited to see that change.

“They’re going to help pinpoint where came from and by pinpointing where it came from they can tell everybody in that place to quarantine whether they have it or not. They could have it and have no symptoms and never get tested and still have it,” she said.

But for now, to keep the cases down, Mayi suggests things like continuing to wear a mask and social distance. “What’s going to help us in the meantime to reduce the numbers in addition to contact tracing is to also do prevention.”

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