4:13 PM, Feb 27, 2020


Contract tracers struggling to keep up with surge in COVID-19 cases, urge public cooperation

Posted at 7:07 PM, Nov 13, 2020

Public health officials are urging people who test positive for COVID-19 to cooperate with their contact tracers so they can work to notify anyone who has been in close contact and might be at risk.

Unfortunately, because of the surge in cases around Michigan, some people who test positive may not get a phone call from a contact tracer.

In Washtenaw, Livingston and Macomb counties, they are having to prioritize case investigations and contact tracers may not be able to investigate every case and alert others who may have been exposed.

"At the onset in March, we only had six people doing contract tracing. We got inundated, so now we have up to 60 people that are doing contact tracing and even having those 60 folks that are working in our health department right now, they're saying the same thing: We now have to prioritize," said Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel.

In Washtenaw County, public health officials say their contact tracers are focusing on the following groups:

* Individuals age 0-17 years

* Individuals age 60 years and above

* Individuals living in local zip codes 48197 and 48198

* Individuals residing in high-risk congregate settings such as long-term care facilities

* Individuals of any age who are at higher risk of severe illness or complications

"Unfortunately, the point that we're at as a health department and a lot of health departments are at, is the volume of cases is such that no matter how many hours we're working, no matter how many new staff we keep bringing on, we can't keep up," said Susan Ringler-Cerniglia, Public Information Officer for the Washtenaw County Health Department. "We can't get to the number of cases that are coming in each day.

"We're not getting to everybody as quickly as possible, and with that, we may not get to some people," said Ringler-Cerniglia.

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If you do test positive for COVID-19, public health officials say it's important to stay home except to get medical care; stay away from everyone else in your household and, if possible, use a separate bathroom; and tell your employer you have COVID-19.

It's important to tell your close contacts so they can quarantine themselves.

A close contact is anyone who had face-to-face contact with an infected person for at least 15 minutes and within six feet, according to officials with the Washtenaw County Health Department.

And start quarantining right away if you are told you are a close contact.

Health officials say you cannot "test your way out of quarantine" because it can take up to 14 days after exposure for an infection to develop and you could test positive later on.

According to a spokesman for the Wayne County Public Health Division, they've been able to increase contact tracing staff to meet demand as COVID-19 cases surge.

"However, the Public Health Division is most concerned with responsiveness and cooperation of contacts. We encourage all residents who receive a call from the Health Division to answer, or call back and cooperate with our contact tracers," the spokesman said in a statement.

Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel urged people to do one thing if nothing else. "Be very cognizant of people that have underlying health issues, even the elderly and keep them out of harm's way because those are the ones that seem to suffer the most from this with hospitalizations and or death," he said. "You've got to be very aware of that if you're deciding to invite family and friends and other relatives over to the house during Thanksgiving, understand that your choices have consequences."