APH: Local COVID-19 contact tracing ‘challenging’ due to rapid spread of cases


AUSTIN (KXAN) — Contact tracing to slow the spread of COVID-19 in Austin-Travis County has become “challenging” and potentially ineffective due to the current surge in cases, according to a joint statement from Austin-Travis County.

Austin Public Health shared that it keeps hiring new case investigators to follow the growing caseload of the novel coronavirus, but leaders are asking local residents to do their part to protect themselves during the pandemic.

The function of contact tracing is difficult under the current conditions because local residents are interacting with too many people in a single week, according to Austin-Travis County.

The release stated that between trips to the grocery store, restaurants, and visiting homes of family and friends, a person can make hundreds of contacts in a single week. When this is combined with a delay of lab processing, the ability to get to a positive case’s contacts becomes a larger obstacle.

“Our concern is that the public may be relying on Austin Public Health contact tracing to contain this,” said Dr. Mark Escott, Interim Austin-Travis County Health Authority. “Contact tracing in this time of uncontrolled widespread transmission is not going to be as effective, especially if people continue to have increased contact with others outside of their household. We’re asking that people not depend on contact tracing at this stage of the outbreak, but instead lend us their support and engagement to join our mission to slow the spread of this relentless virus once again.”

Due to the rise in cases, APH said it’s been forced to prioritize contact tracing based on vulnerability, congregate settings and workplaces, and healthcare facilities, including long-term care facilities.

Health experts are reminding people that if they’re awaiting results on a COVID-19 test, they should self-isolate immediately.

“If you have symptoms, you need to act like you have COVID-19, we are at that point in the spread right now,” said Janet Pichette, APH Chief Epidemiologist.

Additionally, local health leaders are asking the community to exercise caution during the July 4 weekend and to avoid non-household or extended family gatherings.

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