Contact tracer sounds like the rubric of a private detective in a science-fiction story. But these investigators are unique and undeniable facts of the pandemic world in which live.
The short definition: Contact tracers question people who have tested positive for COVID-19 to identify people they have had contact with and let them know they may have been exposed to the disease.
In recent weeks, though, the omicron variant has been a game changer for contact tracers. Because of the deluge of new positive cases and the speed with which omicron spreads, the contact tracing system is overburdened and exhausted.
As a result of the worsening COVID-19 situation, the ability of contact tracers to keep up with the investigation of new cases in a timely manner is becoming more strained each day. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Wednesday urged local health departments to prioritize which cases to investigate and which contacts to trace.
To support its recommendation the CDC developed a three-point guideline: High burden is defined as a backlog of cases for each interviewer that is at least twice the number (100% more) they are able to interview each day; medium burden is defined as a backlog of cases for each interviewer that is 50% more than the number of cases they are able to interview each day; low burden is defined as a reasonable number of cases for each interviewer to call each day.
Columbia and Greene counties are following the CDC’s guidance. Greene County officials recently announced they have informed residents they may not be getting a call from their state or local health department for contact tracing.
The pandemic touches almost every dimension of society. Now the contract tracers, many of whom are volunteer health care workers, are feeling the pinch. Health departments must find a way to help them do their work.