Health departments face contact tracing challenges: ‘It’s really hard for us to keep up’

Local News

CENTRAL VALLEY, Calif. (KSEE) – As Central Valley counties continue to experience significant increases in COVID-19 cases, health departments are facing challenges when it comes to tracking who infected patients came into contact with, also known as contact tracing.

“We don’t have enough personnel at this time, especially in the last 10 days, it’s really hard for us to keep up with contact tracing at this time,” said Fresno County Interim Health Officer Dr. Rais Vohra during the county’s COVID-19 briefing on Monday.

COVID-19 daily reported cases in Fresno and Tulare counties are consistently reaching triple digits.

Fresno County has about 100 contact tracers, but Dr. Vohra said their goal is to get between 200 and 300.

Melanie Deto, a trainer with the Fresno County Medical Investigation Team, said their contact tracers are divided up into teams: one that contacts patients considered high-risk and another that contacts patients considered low-risk.

“We’re asking them to call them and make contact with these high-risk individuals right away and then we have a low-risk team that we’re asking to run more cases and maybe not do as extensive as an interview as you would with the high-risk population but to get all the information still necessary for that family to have their questions answered and know what they should do,” Deto said.

Tulare County has a team of 75 contact tracers.

Carrie Monteiro with Tulare County’s Health & Human Services Agency says their goal is to get to more than 100 contact tracers in the next few weeks.

“We are adding contact tracers every day. As cases increase, the loads are increasing,” she said.

Madera County has a contact tracing team of about 18 to 20 people, said Sara Bosse, the county public health director. Their goal is to increase that number by 10 to 20 in the next two weeks.

“We have really scaled up in terms of our staffing and we’re continuing to do so, especially with the increase in cases over the last week in Madera County,” Bosse said

Tulare and Fresno counties are also facing another challenge: with the increase in community spread, those who test positive sometimes do not have contact information for those who they could have exposed to the virus.

“We find this is very common as individuals are going to gatherings, go out to bars or parties,” Monteiro said.

Going forward, Vohra said Fresno County will be working with community-based organizations and partners to reach the rural areas.

“All of those groups are really going to represent the new wave of contact tracers,” Vohra said.

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