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Contact tracing is getting more difficult for public health departments

Contact tracing is getting more difficult for public health departments
Posted at 7:38 PM, Oct 16, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-16 20:38:39-04

WINNEBAGO CO. (NBC 26) -- With hospitalizations and positive cases related to COVID-19 reaching record highs on Friday in Wisconsin, contract tracing employees are having a hard time keeping up with the demand across many counties across the state. Public Health Departments in Oconto, Rock, Chippewa, Winnebago and Brown county have all claimed they cannot conduct the same level of contact tracing as they did just a month ago.

On Friday Kimberly Goffard, of the Winnebago County Public Health Department said that her department has recently been asking contact tracers to request that some people who test positive for the virus reach out to their close contacts, rather than the department.

"We're not at the point anymore where we can call everybody's contacts, so we have to ask some people to let their close contacts know."

Goffard says most tests take three to five days for the results to be processed. Adding that within 24 hours of that, most of the people who contracted the virus are notified. But she admits that tracking down those who were in close proximity to the individuals diagnosed can be difficult and time-consuming.

"Along the way, there are lots of potential hurdles in reaching somebody."

The biggest hurdle according to Goffard, is trying to get ahold of people who may need to be tested or have tested positive for the virus.

"People don't pick up the telephone when they see a number that is local but unfamiliar."

She hopes people who were tested will pick up the phone in the days following a test. She also would like to see those same individuals staying out of the public for the time needed to process the test, just in case they are carrying the virus. And lastly, in these confusing times with a pandemic making its rounds across the state, she hopes people will answer phone calls that are unfamiliar on the chance, that someone is reaching out to them with a concern that they may have contracted the virus.

"If you see a phone number that is a local Wisconsin number and you don't recognize it please pick up, it could be a contact tracer."

For now, Winnebago County Public Health will continue to try and hire and train more contact tracers to keep up with the demand. But, with the COVID trend heading in the wrong direction it shouldn't surprise folks if you get a call from a friend, co-worker, or acquaintance recommending that you to get tested just in case.

"I think unfortunately in some places you will start seeing other jurisdictions starting to ask people to start helping public health out like that."

For information related to what to do if you have been exposed to COVID-19 and how to reach out to others, check out this link from the Winnebago County Public Health Department.