COVID-19 contact tracing: local health districts have thousands of overdue cases

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Between staff and technology limitations, local health districts are unable to keep pace with the wave of reported COVID cases.

IDAHO, United States – The Idaho Division of Public Health’s COVID-19 dashboard has resulted in around 11,500 pending positive cases requiring local health district review, according to the Department of Idaho Health and Welfare.

This backlog not only limits the accuracy of COVID-19 cases reported in real time, but it also limits local public health districts in their ability to properly contact the trace. Contact tracing is a process that notifies close contacts that they have been exposed to the coronavirus and collects information about where the virus is spreading in the community.

This backlog of cases has grown due to a lack of manpower needed to handle cases in real time, according to local health districts. However, hiring more staff was not easy.

“There is a stigma against public health in much of Idaho, including our district, so people don’t want to work for public health just because they don’t want to deal with it. harassment that public health workers are facing right now, “said Brianna Bodily, public information officer for the South Central Public Health District.

All seven of Idaho’s public health districts receive these cases electronically through the same system. This system is limited in the number of cases it can contain. As cases are reported daily that are not addressed by the health districts, the backlog grows over time.

The backlog has grown so large that the technology has reached its limits.

“What we’re facing now is a problem where we can’t even download these cases. We don’t know where they are, we don’t know who they are,” Bodily said. “There is no way to contact them even if we had the manpower to do so. Because so many cases happen, even the technology is outdated.”

Central District Health, Idaho’s largest by population, says the solution is at the root of the problem.

“We are seeing a greater diffusion in the fact that people are not masked, don’t move away and have this closer contact,” said Lindsay Haskell, program manager for the communicable disease control department at CDH.

Health officials are now asking people to be proactive and to report themselves to their local district when they test positive. This self-reporting process allows health districts to get the information they need during a statewide spate of cases while being subject to these personnel and technology limitations.

The public health districts of Idaho with self-report forms available on their websites are listed below:

  • District 1: Panhandle Public Health District (Kootenai, Bonner, Shoshone, Boundary, Benewah)
  • District 2: North Central District (Clearwater, Idaho, Latah, Lewis, Nez Perce)
  • District 3: Southwest District Health (Adams, Canyon, Gem, Owyhee, Payette, Washington)
  • District 4: District Health Center (Ada, Boise, Elmore, Valley)
  • District 5: South Central Public Health District (Blaine, Camas, Cassia, Gooding, Jerome, Lincoln, Minidoka, Twin Falls)
  • District 6: Southeast Idaho Public Health (Bannock, Bear Lake, Bingham, Caribou, Franklin, Oneida, Power)
  • District 7: Eastern Idaho Public Health (Bonneville, Butte, Clark, Custer, Fremont, Jefferson, Lemhi, Madison, Teton)

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