Michigan to end most contact tracing as COVID overtakes efforts

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Health officials will now focus on boosting public education campaigns on COVID topics such as isolation and quarantine, which is considered close contact, what to do if you have been exposed to someone with COVID, when to request a test and how to do home testing, MDHHS spokeswoman Lynn Sutfin told Bridge via email.

In some cases, automation will replace phone calls from local health workers.

LMAS Health Department in Derusha in UP has joined other departments in using Patient Education Genius software to text and survey newly infected people to help track COVID-19.

Change was inevitable.

Contact tracing involves tracing the transmission of the disease to mitigate its spread, individually contacting people who are infected or possibly exposed to a pathogen – measles, sexually transmitted diseases, typhoid, for example – and guiding them to temporarily withdraw from everyday life and contact. with the others.

But 22 months after Michigan doctors confirmed the first case of COVID in the state, levels of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are at all-time highs, even though the omicron variant appears to cause less severe illness. .

“When the numbers get big, it’s a futile effort,” said Linda Vail, Ingham County health officer.

During the pandemic, contact tracers have also encountered resistance and outright hostility when contacting people who may be at risk of infection. As Bridge Michigan reported, they were lied to, cursed and hung up on as early as summer 2020.

The Northwestern Michigan Department of Health, which covers Charlevoix, Antrim, Emmet and Otsego counties, referred to “decreasing public involvement in contact tracing,” in its announcement. from Wednesday, explaining why he’s “moving away from universal contact tracing and case investigations to focus on high-priority community groups and those living in congregational settings.

That dynamic has only gotten worse with omicron, public health officials said in Bridge, with public nerves increasingly on edge and the sheer number of cases overwhelming the ability of health services to track them. .

“When you have widespread community transmission, those things tend not to work because there’s just too much virus going around. There is too little capacity to put everyone who needs to be isolated, isolated, and everyone who needs to be quarantined, quarantined,” Vail said.

Some health departments may still do more contact tracing than others, but that depends on resources and the likelihood that each case’s contact tracing will still be effective, said Derusha, of the nationwide group. ‘State.

“We just can’t reach everyone right now. That’s been true in all the pushes, but this push is different from anything we’ve had before,” he said.

In November, Michigan reported about 76 new cases of COVID-19 per day per 100,000 people. That number has now doubled to more than 162 cases per day per 100,000 people. Recent testing data also shows that about 1 in 3 COVID tests taken in Michigan come back positive, an extraordinarily high rate suggesting uncontrolled spread.

Contract hunting was important in the early years of the pandemic, especially when cases were low and manageable, Vail and Derusha said.

And the practice has been crucial in helping doctors and health workers learn about COVID-19 – its incubation period, its symptoms, the demographics most at risk, and now the virus is moving through populations. , said Peacock, the health worker for northwest Michigan.

“The information we got from both case investigations and contact tracing formed the body of knowledge about what we know about COVID,” she said.

These are guided practices on social distancing, isolation and quarantine procedures. And that, in turn, means individuals don’t need the level of individual counseling that was needed at the start of the pandemic, Peacock said.

Going forward, contact tracing will continue in schools and congregate care settings. It’s a critical need as school districts struggle to staff buses and classrooms, said Robert McCann, executive director of the K-12 Alliance for Education, a Michigan schools advocacy organization. .

“If county and state health departments don’t facilitate contact tracing, I don’t know how it’s done,” he said.

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