OVERLAND PARK, Kan. – A year after COVID-19 and 28 million American infections later, health officials are still working to find out where people came into contact with coronavirus.
It’s a task that is getting increasingly difficult and some local health officials say it is now almost impossible.
While there doesn’t seem to be a way to tell if it’s still working, some counties are planning to spend more of your taxpayers’ money on expanding the program.
If you sign COVID-19 you will receive a call. In Johnson County, Kansas, it will come from a case investigator asking about symptoms, where you’ve gone, who might have infected you, or whether you might have been infected in the days leading up to your positive test.
It’s the kind of work the county did for about a month in 2018 trying to control an outbreak of measles in 14 people in the county. However, in the past 11 months they have attempted to track down more than 40,000 cases of COVID-19.
“Public health has never really done contact tracing on this scale during this time,” said Elizabeth Holzschuh, director of epidemiology for the Johnson County Health Department.
In October, as the number of cases spiked, the county health director said contact tracers were overwhelmed.
“It is impossible to keep up with the cases and their contacts,” said Dr. Sanmi Areola, Johnson County Health Director.
Johnson County has more than doubled its workforce to 55 investigators and tracers. So far, funds from the CARES Act have been used to pay salaries of $ 1.4 million.
“The money could really have been better spent in any other area, maybe even providing masks or protecting people who need it, but I think the traceability is certainly a total waste of money,” said Joseph Blond.
Kansas City Health Department officials say that of the 17,500 exams that were classified as “completed,” most of the time there was no way to determine a location of origin.
A FOX4 investigation found that there are currently no plans to measure effectiveness and no numbers on how many, if any, cases have been prevented by contact tracing. One thing the Kansas City health authorities could tell us: They plan to spend more money hiring more tracers when they get more federal funding.
Contact tracing started strong when home orders stayed. People didn’t have that many contacts and some companies even agreed to follow up on their customers in case someone went down with COVID-19.
“I’ve been out once since last March and was only asked once for my name and number,” said Beth Lemark.
And many health officials stopped posting locations of outbreaks so as not to harm business. Missouri does not list Clusters or Johnson County, Kansas.
“If we want to publish information about outbreaks, we want to make sure that they are really outbreaks and that this is not just a coincidence,” said Holzschuh.
Holzschuh admits that as the disease spread and contact with other people became more difficult, it became more difficult to follow up.
“When it got to where we were, it was very difficult to figure out which of these three it could have been or which of the five places you’ve been,” she said.
A KU professor urges Kansas and Missouri officials to allow this Technology in more than 20 states called Google Apple Exposure Notification.
“At the levels we’ve seen over the past three months, there is no way we could have kept up with the contact tracing. We don’t have the people or the tools to do this without the software that would do it automatically, ”said Professor Brian McClendon.
The phone app records when you are within 6 feet of someone else for a period of time. But it is not mandatory.
“I mean where does it end? Will they haunt everyone? “Alison Dice wondered.
Holzschuh said a bill allowing Kansans to refuse to speak to contact tracers and block their contact with others who may have been exposed makes their job difficult.
“Has it or could it ever get to a point where contact tracing really doesn’t make sense, or at least isn’t worth the cost?” Holschuh was asked.
“You know, I think that was a really big talking point,” she replied.
But right now in Johnson County this is just talk. Contact tracers are currently funded through June.
Suggest a correction