Volunteers try to fill contact tracing gaps, but Boone County lacks resources

1 month 4 days 7 hours ago Friday, July 10 2020 Jul 10, 2020 Friday, July 10, 2020 12:49:00 PM CDT July 10, 2020 in News
By: Destinee Patterson, KOMU 8 Reporter

COLUMBIA – As Boone County struggles to keep up with the need for contact tracing in the community, volunteers are trying to step up to fill in the gaps.

However, Director of Columbia/Boone County Public Health Department Stephanie Browning said even adding volunteers is a task that requires resources the department does not currently have.

“Adding volunteers from the general community will require screening, training and additional technology needs,” she said in an email to KOMU 8. “Right now, we just don’t have the staff resources to stand up a volunteer workforce of contact tracers.”

Right now, the department has 24 contact tracers and 14 disease investigators. Browning said she wants to have at least 54 contact tracers on-staff. Contact tracers make phone calls and emails to people who may have been exposed to COVID-19 from another person infected with the virus.

“I think the contact tracing is very important, because if we have enough people to contact people before they’re actually exposing other people,” Columbia resident Christina Hartman said. “Ultimately, we’re reducing the load on hospital staff…It just has a trickle effect,” she said.

Browning said the health department is making a proposal to the Boone County Commission to get CARES Act funding to “expand our capacity for case investigations, contact tracing and other key functions.”

“This would allow us to free up some time to work with potential volunteers,” she said.

Hartman is one of 47 people on the list of potential volunteers. She said she recognized the need in the community and reached out to the health department.

“I don’t have any experience the health industry,” she said. “This was just one way I knew I could help.”

Earlier this week, Boone County reported its record-high for single day COVID-19 cases, with more than 450 people quarantining due to close contact.

“Due to the increase in cases, it may be several days before [Public Health and Human Services] is able to identify and contact all those who were directly exposed to the virus,” according to a news release from the health department.

On Thursday, Dr. Randall W. Williams, the director of the Missouri Health and Senior Services department, said the state will be providing local health departments with enough funding to add one additional contact tracer to its staff.

Watch KOMU 8 News at 6 and 10 p.m. for team coverage about the county's response and the first day of Columbia's mask ordinance.

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