CDC urges overwhelmed contact tracers to prioritize efforts as cases soar
Given increased demand on contact tracers, CDC advised against contacting infected people who are more than two weeks out from their positive test.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is advising overwhelmed local health officials to triage their coronavirus contact tracing efforts, writing that the latest infection surge is making it difficult to reach every close contact of Covid-positive patients in time to help contain the disease’s spread.
“As the burden of COVID-19 worsens in an area, and the capacity to investigate new cases in a timely manner becomes more difficult or is not feasible, health departments should prioritize which cases to investigate and which contacts to trace,” reads new guidance from the CDC.
The CDC said state and local public health departments should prioritize contacting people who tested positive for Covid-19 within the last six days, members of their immediate household, the elderly and people with health conditions that make them more vulnerable to the virus, and people who live or work in congregate settings like nursing homes and prisons, where the virus has spread rapidly.
Given increased demand on contact tracers, CDC advised against contacting infected people who are more than two weeks out from their positive test, except in rare circumstances, since it is likely too late to prevent them from spreading the virus to others.
How we got here: The new guidance comes as cases, hospitalizations and deaths soar nationwide, straining a public health workforce that was already stretched thin. Some states and cities have already urged residents to do their own contact tracing because there aren’t enough people available to call every positive case.
Labs say the infection surge is also slowing down their ability to process Covid tests, which could delay local health departments’ efforts to begin the contact tracing process.
The U.S. is adding more than 1 million new cases per week and nearing 260,000 deaths. Officials fear that travel and family gatherings over Thanksgiving — against the CDC’s advice — will fuel further spread, diminishing the country’s ability to track and contain the virus.