ISDH faces difficulties with contact tracing

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ISDH has more than 1,000 contact tracers statewide, but many COVID-19 patients don’t want to answer questions about who they’ve been around.

INDIANAPOLIS — As Indiana continues to deal with a record number of new COVID-19 cases this week, the Indiana State Department of Health revealed more troubling news.

Many Hoosiers diagnosed with coronavirus refuse to answer questions that could help limit the spread of the disease.

Contact tracing — the scientific process of contacting Hoosiers who have the virus to help identify others they may have accidentally infected — is one of Indiana’s most important weapons against COVID-19. .

The state is spending more than $40 million to contact every infected resident as soon as their test results are shared with ISDH.

“Today we have 955 contact tracers working through our centralized contact tracing operation and another 371 in local health departments,” ISDH Chief Medical Officer Lindsay said Wednesday afternoon. Weaver.

Despite more than 1,000 contact tracers statewide, Weaver acknowledged that many people who test positive for COVID-19 are unwilling to answer questions.

“Contract tracers are also reporting that more people are refusing to respond to the first contract search survey, which of course puts us all at increased risk from COVID and is a significant barrier to lowering our numbers,” said she declared.

A large number of COVID-positive residents who do not work with state contact tracers pose a significant risk, according to public health officials contacted by 13News.

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“Yes, it’s a problem,” said Dr. Andrea Janota, acting director of the Center for Public Health Practice at the IUPUI Fairbanks School of Public Health. “Contact tracing has been around for a long time and is a very useful public health tool. So when we don’t have people participating in contact tracing, it just allows for more spread – perhaps by people who don’t know they’re sick. So contact tracing allows us to intervene and stop the spread.

The state health department told 13News that its contracted contact tracers sent more than 475,000 phone calls and 630,000 text messages to people who tested positive for COVID-19.

“Nearly 75% of our contact tracing efforts are successful,” said ISDH spokeswoman Megan Wade-Taxter. She did not specify what “successful” means.

With more than 141,000 Hoosiers who have tested positive for COVID to date, a 75% success rate means there could be up to 35,000 Hoosiers infected who have not shared information about d other people they might have exposed.

“When we fully participate in contact tracing, we do our best,” said Dr. Kara Cecil, assistant professor of public health at Indianapolis University. She said there could be a variety of factors that could deter infected residents from participating in the contact tracing process. One of these factors could be the weather. It can take 45-60 minutes to completely complete a contact tracing survey.

“It takes time, but all that investment really matters and it’s so worth it,” explained Cecil. “It’s important to look at these contact tracing efforts as something to improve your health, the health of your family and the health of your neighbor and reduce the risk to these people.”

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Another obstacle to contact tracing could be language barriers or the fear of some infected Hoosiers that contact tracing will result in law enforcement involvement.

“Contact tracers are here as public health officials. We are just to tell you about illnesses or prevent exposure to COVID and help identify resources, nothing else,” Janota told 13News. “It’s about letting you know you’re not alone…and checking in and making sure you’re okay, making sure you understand the virus and how to protect others.”

ISDH said when people refuse to respond to its contact tracers, those cases are then referred to local health departments for follow-up. In Marion County, IUPUI contact tracers are currently engaged in a door-to-door program to help reach people who have not responded to contact tracing.

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