More contact tracers trained, but Boone County still needs more
COLUMBIA —The Columbia/Boone County Health Department trained 15 city employees in contact tracing Monday. But the county is still at least 10 people below the CDC’s recommend number of contact tracers by population.
"There are some guidelines the CDC recommends," Todd Guess, Boone County Health Department’s senior planner, said. "We don't have that number yet. We've been asking, and apparently the state has been promising either help with contact tracing, more funding for contact tracing. But that hasn't materialized yet."
Contact tracers reach out to those who have been in close contact with someone who tests positive.
They call or email those who have been around the person within 48 hours of getting symptoms or prior to positive test results.
Tracers then inform the contact list about the quarantine process and check-in with them. Tracers also assist the testing process by submitting a test order from the medical director to the contact, if desired.
Last week’s jump in COVID-19 cases across the county overwhelmed the contact tracers.
“The spike in cases recently is certainly a challenge," Guess said. “We got a team, and we’re cranking them out as fast as we can, but it is a labor intensive process… and frankly the cases are coming in faster right now than we are able to keep up.”
The department set a goal of contacting each person on the positive-testing person’s list within 24 hours of a positive result. Now, the benchmark is within 48 hours.
“That’s a 24 hour head start on the potential of other’s becoming infected,” Guess said. “Every hour counts. The sooner we can get a hold of the cases, develop a list of contacts, then in turn get a hold of the contacts, the better.”
In addition to the 15 city employees trained Monday, the health department asked other city departments to help.
“If you have employees who are not operating at their full capacity right now, and have the ability to assist with contact tracing we could definitely take advantage of them,” Guess said.
Training involves an online course and a roughly four hour session with Boone County Health Department.
“I think we will feel a little bit of relief with the new folks coming on,” Guess said. “I anticipate some of the folks we train today will be making call by this evening.”
Guess said the new employees are coming at an opportune time.
“Given the holiday, given the lax restrictions in the community, more people gathering together, the numbers have certainly been increasing,” Guess said. “And I don’t anticipate that changing.”
Guess said the department may need to train more people when the county realizes the impact of Fourth of July celebrations later this week and into early next week.
But the department has another point of relief heading into potentially rising cases.
"The other thing that makes me optimistic is that we're working furiously to get the REDCap project for case investigation—as opposed to just contact tracing—up and running," Guess said. "Once that's going, it will allow us to streamline some of our processes and make them more efficient as well."
The health department has implemented a new database system called REDCap last week. It allows tracers to send automatically generated messages to those on contact lists, asking if they are experiencing symptoms or would like to speak directly to a contact tracer.
The department has this software available contact tracers reaching out to contact lists. However, it is not available yet for case investigators—who are the tracers that reach out directly to the positive-testing person to get the initial list of names.