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Increasing Boone County COVID-19 cases may cause delay in contact tracing


The Columbia/Boone County Health Department said new COVID-19 cases may cause delays in tracking down possible other cases.

The health department's release on Monday said the volume of new COVID-19 cases could affect the coronavirus case investigator team. According to health department data, countywide coronavirus cases have doubled since the beginning of June.

Assistant director Scott Clardy said as of Tuesday morning the health department was caught up on making calls.

Clardy said a close contact is someone who has been within 6 feet of a positive case for 15 minutes or longer, or had touched the infected person.

Clardy said the health department contacts everyone who is considered a close contact that was with the positive case two days before the positive test results came back. 

Once the health department reaches the close contacts, they tell them to quarantine for 14 days after their last contact with the positive case. The health department will then suggest the close contact get tested between seven and nine days after their last exposure to the case.

If the close contact tests positive during their quarantine period, they are then told to isolate themselves for 10 days. 

Clardy said there have been some instances where a positive case does not know all of the people they were around, so the health department has to take a different approach. 

“We sent out an alert to to the public saying, 'hey, if you were at this pool on this date at this time you may have been exposed, you need to be watching yourself for symptoms and get yourself tested if you need to,'" Clardy said.

Clardy said contact tracing is all about controlling the spread of the virus from one person to another.

Health officials said the department has trained at least 10 additional staff members to address the increase in cases, adding to the nearly 20 existing employees.

Clardy said environmental health inspectors, some administrative staff and other city employees that are outside of the health department have helped with contact tracing.

"As we get new cases we just see the number of contacts continuing to increase and one person can only make so many phone calls a day," Clardy said. "We don't just do that initial contact, we follow up with them at least every other day or so and see how they're doing if they have symptoms if they have any unmet needs."

Clardy said on average one employee will make 10 contact tracing phone calls a day. The health department's standard is to try to attempt to contact every case within 24 hours of being notified in that case.

Clardy said over the past week the health department was not able to do that with all cases, so they tried to get in contact with the others within 48 hours.

"We only had one case yesterday so that helped us out a lot," Clardy said.

The Columbia/Boone County Health Department started to use a new computer system, Red Cap, last week.

The system allows employees to organize all the notes about the contacts and the order those people need to be contacted all in one place so that instead of one person being responsible for specific contacts, all the contact tracers can start calling contacts as necessary.

According to the release, 55 percent of all coronavirus positive cases as of Sunday have been in people younger than 30.

Of the 55 percent, Clardy said 24 percent between the ages of 20 and 24.

Clardy said that percentage is very concerning.

"While this age group may be at less risk for severe illness, they can still easily spread the virus to others who are more vulnerable to life-threatening illnesses," the release said.

The release added the majority of new cases last week were transmitted by contact with a person known to have COVID-19.

People may be experiencing "caution fatigue" and are no longer following coronavirus mitigation efforts, according to the announcement.

Health officials have encouraged residents to continue social distancing, as well as wash their hands and disinfect high-touch surfaces.

Watch ABC 17 News at 5 & 6 p.m. for more information on this story.

Article Topic Follows: Coronavirus

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Amber Tabeling

Amber joined the ABC 17 News team as a multimedia journalist in December 2019. She was a student-athlete at Parkland College and Missouri Valley College. She hails from a small town in Illinois.


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