Public Health Madison & Dane County (PHMDC) is switching to a “crisis model” of contact tracing as the county’s cumulative COVID-19 cases reached a total of 13,047 amid a recent surge, with 90 hospitalizations and 22 in the ICU with COVID-19 as of Oct. 21.
Individuals who test positive for COVID-19 under the new model of contact tracing will still be contacted about their test result and instructed on isolation measures, but with the influx of cases, PHMDC contact tracers no longer have the capacity to follow up with the COVID-19 positive individuals or reach all the people they came in contact with efficiently.
“Like all other health departments in the state, we are struggling to keep up with contact tracing” PHMDC Director Janel Heinrich said in a news release. “When we consistently have well over 150 new cases per day, we cannot contact all cases and contacts quickly enough to effectively disrupt the spread of COVID-19. We are moving to a crisis model of contact tracing.”
Since notifying COVID-19 patients of their positive test results will be prioritized over contact tracing, PHMDC recommends that individuals who test positive for COVID-19 notify the people that they are in close contact with that they may have been exposed using these guidelines.
"Our community has crossed a threshold with COVID-19 and sadly we have reached a place where if you venture out and come into contact with someone with this virus, it may take a while for you and your family to be notified," Dane County Executive Joe Parisi said in a release. "In the face of understandable exhaustion and unprecedented difficulty we have to press on like our health, lives, and those of others depend on it — because they do. Each one of us has to review our daily routines and do all we can to distance and minimize contact with others."
To aid PHMDC, UW-Madison contact tracers are assisting in the efforts to trace cases among the residents of Dane County beyond the university, according to UW-Madison Director of News and Media Relations Meredith McGlone.
“Since early September, we have doubled the number of campus contact tracers and we are committed to conducting all contact tracing for UW students and employees,” McGlone said. “In fact, UW contact tracers are now assisting Public Health Madison Dane County because we have more contact tracers than needed at the moment. UHS contact tracing continues to operate normally and handle contact tracing for anyone identified as a UW–Madison student or employee and their close contacts.”
The need for contact tracers may soon increase following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) new guidelines released Wednesday, which define a “close contact” as someone who was within six feet of an infected individual for a total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period. Previous guidelines required at least 15 consecutive minutes with an individual who tested positive for COVID-19 to be considered close contact. Health departments base contact tracing off of these CDC guidelines.
PHMDC urges the over 500,000 Dane County residents that they serve to minimize their time outside of their residence, and, if they do leave their house, to maintain a six foot distance between individuals and others, avoid gatherings, wear face coverings and get tested.