Local counties scramble to find contact tracers to keep up with rising COVID-19 cases

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(KTXL) — Counties across the region are scrambling to find and train enough contact tracers to deal with the rising numbers of COVID-19 cases.

California’s Health and Human Services secretary said the current contact tracing program was not built for this level of transmission.

Through call after call, contact tracers have been working to break the chain of transmission all across Yuba and Sutter counties.

“If an individual gets sick, those people that they come in contact with may get sick,” said Yuba County Health and Human Services Deputy Director of Public Health Dr. Homer Rice. “So, we want to monitor them to make sure they don’t come down with the disease and they don’t spread it to anybody else.”

Roughly 20 contact tracers in these counties let people know if they’ve been near someone with COVID-19 and need to quarantine for 14 days.

But according to Dr. Rice, cases are rising so quickly that they don’t have enough tracers to keep up.

“I believe our number is 632 cases, but that means we’ve made 6,000 calls,” Dr. Rice told FOX40. “I will admit that we’re a little bit behind. We’re trying to keep up with it but the numbers, again, have been going up.”

And they’re not alone. Sacramento County said it started with 30 contact tracers working but the illness is spreading so quickly that the state says they now need 200.

“Because of the number of cases that we’re getting, we’re probably not getting to every single person,” said Sacramento County Health Officer Dr. Olivia Kasirye.

Dr. Kasirye said tracers are having to prioritize cases involving more serious outbreaks like those that involve hospitalized patients or vulnerable groups.

Yuba, Sutter and Sacramento counties are all working to train more tracers.

But in the meantime, they ask people to do their part to cooperate if they get a phone call since, often, they are struggling to get information from people.

“She screamed at me and used language that I have not heard since I quit going to bars,” Dr. Rice said of one person he spoke to. “But we have people who simply don’t want to believe us.”

But Dr. Rice said the work to trace and isolate cases is key to getting the virus under control.

“Our job is to safeguard the community and that’s what we’re trying to do,” he said.  

There have been some concerns with scammers posing as contact tracers. So, public health officials want to remind people that they will never ask for financial information or social security numbers.

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