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Growing need for contact tracers again as COVID-19 cases spike

Published: Sep. 22, 2021 at 4:09 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - State health officials say with less social distancing comes more COVID-19 cases. This means the role of contact tracing has become even more important. Many local health departments are in need of more help tracking the spread of COVID-19 in their communities to ensure those who have been exposed are notified.

The Wisconsin Department of Health Services also employees contact tracers. “They are really handling the overflow from local and tribal health departments. At the end of the day, the primary responsibility for contact tracing remains with our local health officials,” said DHS Secretary-designee Karen Timberlake.

In Dane County, public health officials are ramping up contact tracing efforts. “We have rehired a lot of contact tracers that we had in the Spring,” said Amanda Kita-Yarbro, Epidemiologist for Public Health Madison Dane County.

Rock County public health officials say they’re seeing a similar situation. “Over the Summer we were averaging about one case per day in Rock County so we didn’t need as many contact tracing staff,” Katrina Harwood, Rock County Public Health officer.

That’s no longer the case in Rock County. As cases increase, many of the contact tracers who are also nurses are once again helping with notification after someone tests positive.

“A lot of the contact tracing work has been a little more involved because people who have tested positive are having more contact with people...it places a little more work on our contact tracing staff,” said Harwood.

The biggest change in contact tracing for both health departments is they are no longer able to directly notify every close contact after someone tests positive. Instead, health officials are encouraging the person who tests positive to notify their contacts on their own.

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