Arizona and other states are shifting approach to COVID-19 contact tracing

Published: Wednesday, February 9, 2022 - 2:44pm
Updated: Wednesday, February 9, 2022 - 5:21pm
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Numbers are falling, but more than 6,000 Arizonans per day are still testing positive for COVID-19. And if you have recently tested positive for the virus in Arizona, you might not hear from your state or county public health department. The state has changed its approach to contact tracing.

Early in the pandemic, public health departments worldwide wanted to track every case of COVID-19 and get infected people and anyone they might have exposed, to quarantine. That’s less practical with the massive volume of cases recently. So Arizona, and many other states have changed strategies.

"We're not reaching out to 100% of cases that are reported," said Jessica Rigler with the Arizona Department of Health Services. "That's due to the volume and the impact. For example, if we don't hear about a case until 10 days after they were tested, the impact of doing that outreach isn't the same of doing outreach of a case we just heard about who was tested yesterday." 

Rigler said the state's contact tracers are now most focused on COVID-19-positive Arizonans over the age of 80 or school-aged kids.

"Both of those have to do with the fact that they’re more likely to be in congregate settings, and around other Arizonans who might be more substantially at risk,” Rigler said. “We also prioritize those who are hospitalized, so we can get better information on hospital burden as well as potential risk factors for hospitalization. And then we prioritize cases that have multiple comorbidities, too." 

Rigler said the state and county health departments are still putting out phone calls, text messages and digital surveys to prioritized cases. But she said response rates from the public have declined throughout the pandemic.

If you test positive for the virus, the Arizona Department of Health Services still recommends you isolate at home for five full days. The department also recommends you reach out to people you have recently been in close contact with. If you test positive and one of your close contacts is not up-to-date on their COVID-19 vaccines, the department recommends they also quarantine for five days. 

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