COVID-19 contact tracing almost stops in Michigan. why is it important

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Contact tracing of the coronavirus has all but come to a standstill for the vast majority of Michigan residents amid the worst pandemic surge yet.

This means that no one is likely to tell you if you have been exposed to someone who has tested positive for the virus, unless the infected person picks up the phone to let you know.

“We really wish we could contact everyone, but there has always been a plan that there will come a time when we really need people to take personal responsibility as this goes from a pandemic to something endemic. , something that we’re going to have to live with,” said Nick Derusha, health officer for the Luce, Mackinac, Alger, and Schoolcraft District Health Department and president of the Michigan Association for Local Public Health.

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“Local public health is not going to call every case or call every contact and people are going to have to really understand what they’re going to need to do to protect themselves, their families and their communities.”

Instead, local health departments are prioritizing COVID-19 outbreak investigations and contact tracing for people who live in nursing homes or other long-term care facilities, shelters, group homes, jails and jails and those who attend schools or live in dormitories.

“This shift in public health resources toward a focus on outbreak locations and clusters positions limited resources to have the greatest impact,” said state health department spokeswoman Lynn Sutfin.

This is part of a shift in pandemic management strategy, as thousands of new cases are reported daily, and the ability to conduct contact tracing dwindles along with people’s willingness to cooperate.

On Wednesday, the seven-day average of new daily cases surpassed a pandemic high of 17,589 in Michigan. There simply aren’t enough local health department workers to do contact tracing for every newly infected person.

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“In times of high community spread, …in indoor places where there will be people for a long time without a mask – restaurants, bars, really in all crowded public places – people should just assume they have been exposed,” Derusha said.

A new report from the state health department shows that of more than 362,000 virus cases reported since December, only 4.4% – or about 15,900 infected people – have provided the names of close contacts to officials. health.

And of those who did, only 26.7% – or about 4,250 people – were successfully contacted and told they had been exposed to the virus.

“We continue to encounter a high number of individuals who do not respond when attempts are made by public health to contact them,” Sutfin said.

Those contacted were not always kind or helpful, Derusha said. Often, contact tracers are met with anger and frustration. This was especially true during the surge of the fall delta variant.

“A lot of people who would yell or yell at us just wouldn’t answer the phone,” Derusha said. “They don’t pick up. They don’t talk to us. They don’t tell us their contacts. They just ignore us.”

Shani Hessenthaler of Ann Arbor helps her son Emmett, 9, and daughter Stella, 7, with a saliva test at the LynxDx drive-thru COVID-19 testing site in Ypsilanti on January 6, 2022.

To avoid that while getting the message out, Derusha said, “many local public health departments … have moved to automated systems, where we can send text messages. People can respond to surveys by text message, and they can respond that way. So it’s not a phone call every time.

Now that local health departments have such limited ability to contact people who have been exposed, Derusha said it’s important that Michigan residents follow guidelines to slow the spread of the virus, such as:

  • Wear a high-quality mask indoors, in public places
  • Avoid large gatherings
  • Get vaccinated and boosted if eligible
  • Get tested if symptoms appear
  • Follow isolation and quarantine recommendations
  • Call your close contacts if you test positive to tell them they have been exposed.

A close contact exposure is defined as anyone who has been within 6 feet of an infected person for 15 minutes or more from two days before the onset of symptoms or a positive test, according to the Department of Health. state health.

“It is important that people who test positive for COVID-19 self-isolate and inform close contacts that they may have been exposed,” Sutfin said. “If people have been exposed, they should self-quarantine or monitor for symptoms (depending on vaccination and recent positive COVID status) and take other recommended actions, even if they do not receive a call from the service. health.”

People can call the state’s COVID-19 hotline at 888-535-6136 to discuss a coronavirus test result or get information about isolation/quarantine or go online at https://www .michigan.gov/coronavirus and click “CONTAIN COVID” at the top of the page.

Governor Gretchen Whitmer on Thursday instructed the state’s health department to ship every coronavirus test kit the state has to schools and other priority groups such as nursing homes, correctional facilities, first responders and local health departments to try to slow the spread of the virus.

That means 200,000 tests could be distributed immediately, with another 100,000 shipped later this week.

More than a million free tests will be distributed to Michiganders this month, the state health department reported – the largest monthly allocation yet, and comes as the federal government has also pledged to provide up to four free tests to every household in the country that signs up to https://www.covidtests.gov.

Shani Hessenthaler of Ann Arbor takes tests for herself and her children at the LynxDx drive-thru Covid-19 testing site in the parking lot of a former Walmart in Ypsilanti on Thursday, January 6, 2022.

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“Antigen and over-the-counter testing allows Michiganders to very quickly determine if they are positive for the virus and take steps to self-isolate and seek treatment if necessary,” said Elizabeth Hertel, director of the department. of state health, in a statement.

Also on Thursday, the state health department issued an epidemic order requiring all Michigan nursing homes to offer on-site COVID-19 vaccines to residents who are not up to date.

While it doesn’t require residents to get vaccinated, it does require all nursing homes in the state to have on-site vaccines available within 30 days.

“With the omicron variant spreading rapidly in our state and COVID-19 cases continuing to remain high, we want to make sure our most vulnerable Michiganders are protected from the virus,” Hertel said.

Writer Christina Hall contributed to this story.

Contact Kristen Shamus: kshamus@freepress.com. Follow her on Twitter @kristenshamus.

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