Contact tracing is expected to continue locally, but focus will change after omicron casts doubt on effectiveness of individual cases

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The Spokane Regional Health District will continue COVID-19 contact tracing through 2022, after the district renewed its contract with the Institute of Public Health for another year. But the efforts will likely be different, as the highly contagious omicron variant has called into question the effectiveness of contact tracing on an individual basis.

When cases became overwhelming, SRHD contracted the institute to employ more contract tracers. Now, as the omicron wave continues to attenuate, the need for local contact tracing will likely decrease.

Health worker Dr. Francisco Velázquez said the contract may vary depending on need

“That could change depending on the cases and the needs we have,” he told reporters this week.

The sheer volume of cases during the omicron wave has forced local and state health departments to focus on the highest-risk settings, like homeless shelters, long-term care facilities, prisons and other gathering places.

Early in the pandemic, a confirmed case sent to the local health district triggered an investigation, where an epidemiologist would call the person who tested positive, determine their whereabouts, and identify their close contacts. These close contacts usually received notifications or phone calls to self-monitor for symptoms or to get tested.

Omicron is more transmissible than any previous variant of the virus, and as such has challenged contact tracers to cut off transmission before it’s too late.

Additionally, the flood of free government home testing for households has made that part of the disease response difficult. If a person does not report their positive test result to the Department of Health hotline, they will not be counted as a confirmed case in state data and forwarded to the local health jurisdiction for investigation and contact tracing.

It is a shift in the response to the pandemic which, according to the Secretary of State for Health, Dr Umair Shah, is more about “empowering people on what they can do individually”.

While high-risk settings are still required to report outbreaks to local health districts, people who test positive with a home test will need to use things like WA Notify and contact those they’ve been around about. of the possibility of exposure if they do not report their case to the health department.

The public health system will remain people-focused in settings where there is an increased risk of transmission, state health department chief scientist Dr. Tao Kwan-Gett told reporters this week.

“The omicron variant made us realize the limitation of contact tracing,” Kwan-Gett said.

As a result, health officials have encouraged individuals to take personal responsibility if they test positive in the future.

Here is an overview of local numbers

On Friday, the Spokane Regional Health District reported 117 new cases of COVID-19 and no additional deaths.

There are 79 patients hospitalized with the virus in Spokane.

The Panhandle Health District reported 132 new cases of COVID-19, in addition to 3,750 pending cases.

There are 51 Panhandle residents hospitalized with the virus.

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