Contact Tracing In Maricopa County Made Harder By Lag In COVID-19 Test Results

Published: Friday, June 26, 2020 - 6:05am
Updated: Friday, June 26, 2020 - 9:12am

Maricopa County’s health department has made dozens of new hires to help with contact tracing.

But tracking COVID-19 cases is difficult when the state can hardly keep up with the demand for tests. Some Arizonans have waited almost entire days in line to get tested, and the waits for results can be longer still.

Delays at labs in reporting testing data make it even more difficult to track who an infected person had contact with, according to Marcy Flanagan, the county’s public health director.

“Public Health can't reach out to people until we know that they are positive from the lab results, which makes our contact tracing efforts even harder,” Flanagan said. “We are relying on people to get tested to stay home and away from others until they find out their test results.”

That limited contact is crucial. The more time that passes between a test and a lab result can mean more research for contact tracers, whose job it is to identify anyone an infected person may have come into contact with.

Flanagan compared it to contact tracing for other illnesses, like sexually transmitted diseases.

“It is much easier for someone to recall their sexual partners so that we can reach out and do contact tracing with them compared to a disease like COVID-19,which is spread when someone coughs, sneezes or talks,” Flanagan said.

Flanagan said the county’s focus is on contacting those who may have been in touch with an infected person, rather than trying to identify where someone may have contracted the virus.

For instance, Flanagan said the county won’t be identifying businesses like restaurants when one of their employees gets sick.

“We would reach out to that restaurant and let them know of their employee that tested positive and see if there were any exposures in the workplace that way in addition to asking the case, but we will not release publicly restaurants that have had employees who have tested positive,” she said.

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