AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine is ending contact tracing for COVID-19 next week, with the state’s top health official saying the super-contagious omicron variant has made the public health measure less effective.
The omicron strain jumped to account for nearly all new cases in Maine. In the most recent data from the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the week ending Jan. 22, the virus accounted for 98% of sampled cases.
Compared to previous variants, a person who contracts the omicron variant becomes contagious sooner after exposure, Maine CDC Director Nirav Shah noted Wednesday. People often spread the virus before they have symptoms and can infect others before they are reached by a state contact tracer.
“Contact tracing is based on the idea that public health agencies can identify a positive case, get their close contacts, reach out to those close contacts, and advise them to quarantine everything before that close contact has a chance of infecting and spreading COVID to others,” Shah said. “But the biology of the omicron variant is such that contact tracing doesn’t reach these people fast enough.”
Maine had previously reduced the search for contracts to focus on children, the elderly at serious risk of COVID-19 and health care workers, as record levels of cases made it difficult for workers in the state to keep up. the number of cases. The state also announced earlier this month that it would no longer do contact tracing in schools that required masks.
Shah said the decision to scale back contact tracing was unrelated to a backlog of tens of thousands of positive tests that have yet to be reported as cases. Several other states, including Virginia and Massachusetts, have also reduced contact tracing in recent months. Maine is one of 16 states that have conducted internal contact tracing efforts, according to the National Academy for State Health Policy.
The end-of-contract search does not change guidelines for how Mainers should react when they test positive. Testing is still recommended for people possibly exposed to the virus, and those who test positive are still recommended to self-isolate for five days under US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.