Greene County’s health director said Springfield-area residents shouldn’t wait for the health department to contact them before quarantining after a positive COVID-19 test.
At a news conference Wednesday, public health director Clay Goddard said a weekly average of 206 new coronavirus cases each day has overwhelmed the county’s capacity to reach people in the days immediately following a positive test result.
He encouraged people who have tested positive to take personal responsibility and reach out to others who they may have had contact with in the days before they started exhibiting symptoms or received the test results.
“We are still contact tracing,” Goddard said. “We will still reach you … but the volume of cases means there’s a delay. There’s no reason for you to wait.”
Health officials have long said contact tracing is the first line of defense against disease spread because it isolates those who have the virus and stops it from spreading to others who may exhibit symptoms later.
But the process is labor-intensive and time-consuming, especially amid a spike in new cases.
How contact tracing works in Greene County
Here’s how Goddard said it’s working in Greene County:
First, the health department receives a batch of positive test results and gets to work trying to contact those people.
Sometimes, the testing lab provides a phone number for the person. In other cases, the information isn’t readily available and the department has to use public databases or other investigative tools to get in touch.
Once contact tracers find that phone number, they will call the person. But Goddard said many times, people don’t pick up.
Then, if the department can’t get a hold of the person within 48 hours, not including weekends, they send a text message.
Sometimes, those bounce back because the phone number is a land line, though.
If none of those methods work, the department sends out a mailed message at day seven.
“In general, we’re able to reach everybody either via mail, text or direct phone call within that seven to 10-day window, but it’s getting tougher and tougher,” Goddard said.
In St. Louis County, public officials suspended contact tracing for some individuals for the time being as the area added an average of roughly 750 new cases each day.
Officials there have decided to prioritize reaching out to people who are more likely to spread it to others, such as young people, according to St. Louis Public Radio.
Still, Goddard said Greene County tracers aren’t giving up.
They have some help from an outside agency called Maximus Federal Services, which they hired on a $2.7 million contract, and extra contact tracers brought on staff earlier this year.
But with the virus spreading rapidly in the community, even all those extra resources are strained.
“Our team, I’m very proud of them. They’ve come up with some innovative solutions,” Goddard said. “But, once again, the message here is don’t wait for us.”
Katie Kull covers local government for the News-Leader. Got a story to tell? Give her a call at 417-408-1025 or email her at email@example.com. You can also support local journalism at News-Leader.com/subscribe.