NC contact tracers struggling to keep up as COVID-19 cases soar


RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — As COVID-19 cases surge, contact tracers are struggling to keep up — and it’s no easy task.

First, they have to make contact with someone whose tested positive. Then, they have to reach people who may have been exposed to that person.

At a time when so many of us don’t answer our phones for an unknown number, contact tracers face an uphill battle.

Now, as coronavirus cases soar, they can’t do their work fast enough. 

“It’s been impossible to keep up with,” said Bruce Robistow, the Health Director for Halifax County.

He explained that a third of all their cases have come in the last two weeks. That is 1,000 new cases, and they only have five dedicated contact tracers. 

“About 60% of the folks are cooperative. Some folks won’t return our calls or take our calls,” Robistow said.

Compare that to Wake County, where officials say there are about 25 case investigators on an average day with 52 total.

They couldn’t provide numbers but Wake County officials said they have “a good rate of participation.” 

On a good day, that’s about 16 people for worker to contact trace. 

The state acknowledges the challenge, saying local health departments should prioritize potential outbreaks and “super-spreader” events.

State officials said they’re working with counties and providing surge staff when needed. 

Statewide, contact tracers reach out to a person who tested positive within 24 hours and then to that person’s contacts within 48 hours.

But overall it takes nearly two days to get the person who tested positive on the phone. They reach out 68% of them.

“It’s important to help others and when we do the contact tracing we’re not trying to pry into anyone’s privacy, we’re trying to root out areas that we can focus attention on,” Robistow said.

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