If you or someone you know tests positive for Covid-19, chances are an Erie County contact tracer won’t call you for follow-up.
This is a major change from the start of the pandemic and is largely due to the increase in the number of cases caused by the Omicron variant. But it’s a change that one expert says makes a lot of sense.
“I’m in the camp where I’m pretty okay with that,” said Dr. Thomas Russo, an infectious disease specialist at the University at Buffalo Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.
As record numbers of new cases flood the county’s health department, county case investigators are refocusing their attention on containing major outbreaks and high-risk populations, not alerting small groups that might have gathered for a house party.
To be clear, the county isn’t stopping all contact tracing. Case investigators continue to follow people who test positive at Erie County sites, sending letters to others who test positive and fielding calls from individuals, schools and of employers, health department spokeswoman Kara Kane said in an email. But county case investigators are focusing on children and people living in larger group situations, she said.
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On Monday, Health Commissioner Dr Gale Burstein did not return requests for comment from The Buffalo News. At a recent press conference, she said Department of Health case investigators contacted people who tested positive within 24 hours.
“Usually it’s a lot shorter than that,” she said.
The county issued a different message late Sunday afternoon, citing limited resources during a surge in Covid cases. Burstein also previously said the county needed to shift its focus to focus on high-risk groups, such as children attending school or daycare.
“We really had to prioritize our strategy in terms of case investigation and contact tracing,” she said.
She also said the county’s refocused strategy has state support.
The county previously increased the number of contact tracers reaching county residents in the first year of the pandemic as the county tried to contain the spread of the virus. As it has become clear that Covid-19 is virtually impossible to contain, the county now has between 20 and 25 case investigators who speak to the public. Double that number is trained and available to help, along with state contact tracers, Kane said.
At its peak last year, the county had about 100 contact tracers working to identify close contacts and clear up a backlog of cases.
Contact tracing aims to minimize harm by quickly identifying and isolating the virus so that it infects fewer people. But people are most contagious when they first contract the virus and within the first few days of symptoms. By the time they are tested, receive the results and speak with a county investigator, who can then contact others, the infected people’s most contagious days may be behind them.
“Most of the time the damage had been done,” Russo said, adding, “Even if we had a million endless contact tracers ad infinitum, the impact is still kind of fractional.”
Additionally, individuals may not be honest with contact tracers about reckless behavior, or they may feel the need to protect friends, family, or local businesses by not reporting it to the county.
This might be acceptable if the infected person is educated and responsible enough to self-isolate, contact their health care provider, notify close contacts to monitor for symptoms, get tested, quarantine, and wear a mask high quality in public if they have to leave the house.
“Again, it’s up to people to do the right thing,” Russo said. “But if people know how to do the right thing and actually do it, that could be a plus.”
With more widely available rapid tests and better general education on what to do if test results are positive, people who are contagious are more able to get their results back quickly, self-isolating and personally contacting close contacts. to stop the spread of the virus. , Russo said. The only problem is that many people still don’t know what action to take.
Russo knows this first hand because he still hears about them.
The Department of Health is urging anyone who has been exposed to someone who tested positive to self-quarantine, particularly if not fully vaccinated, to monitor for symptoms and seek a Covid-19 test five to seven days after exposure, or sooner if symptoms develop. Erie County residents are also encouraged to self-report positive Covid-19 home test results at erie.gov/hometestreport.