The Omicron variant of COVID-19 continues to rise in the United States as new cases have jumped 185% in the past two weeks and the number of daily cases rises to more than 760,000.
The director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), Dr Anthony Fauci, warned that Omicron “will eventually find just about everyone” as the highly infectious variant continues to spread among those who have been vaccinated and those who have not been vaccinated against the coronavirus.
Given the variant’s rapid spread and the increase in home testing, as insurance companies are now required to cover eight tests per month, some have started to question the value of the Biden administration’s investments in contact tracing and whether the practice is still helpful.
While Becker’s Hospital Review writes that it is “unclear as to the exact amount of funds” that have been spent on tracing and that the US Treasury has said News week it’s “not something the treasury tracks,” the number is somewhere in the hundreds of millions. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) distributed $ 631 million for tracing efforts in April 2020, and some states have spent millions to develop apps.
Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, spoke about how useful these investments are now amid the Omicron wave, and how useful they could be going forward.
“When you get a huge epidemic like the one we have right now… it has less relevance,” Benjamin said. News week. “(But) contact tracing always has a huge role in our response.”
While Omicron’s ability to spread quickly makes home contact tracing measures less useful, Benjamin said these investments are not wasted. Once the current variant is gone, he said the existing contact tracing infrastructure can once again be deployed to deal with geographically confined outbreaks to avoid larger spreads.
Now that contact tracing technology and public health networks are in place, these tools can be used to prevent the spread of other diseases in the meantime, allowing the measures to continue to be used, Benjamin said. Excessively overreacting to the current infectiousness of COIVD-19 contact tracing could be incredibly expensive and once again set America behind when it comes to responding to future disease threats .
“One of the failures of our national policy and strategy has been this yo-yo funding that we put money into when something bad happens,” Benjamin said. “The money comes in, often a little later than we needed it, and then the money goes and the capacity goes. Then something bad happens again, and we could have mitigated it, but we didn’t have the infrastructure to do it. If you built an army this way, your army would never succeed. “
Benjamin points to this lack of an existing contact tracing infrastructure as one reason America’s contact tracing efforts have never achieved the level of success seen in places like Western Europe. He said many communities didn’t get funding until it was too late, which never got the programs up to speed.
In the meantime, Benjamin said contact tracing in its current form should be changed to reflect the new realities of the virus.
Benjamin said people should now identify themselves if they have potentially been infected. Once they receive a response to this suspicion through a home test, he says they should contact their doctor who can provide therapy, the state or local health department and people with whom they have. been in contact.
“The concept of contact tracing is changing a bit, moving from the health service to the focus of the contact tracing effort to the people being helped,” Benjamin said. News week. “So contact tracing always plays an important role. “