Contract tracing stonewalled because people don’t share contacts
When Louisiana began to open back up again after a hard lockdown this spring, Gov. John Bel Edwards touted two key antidotes to ensuring coronavirus did not spin out of control again: testing and contact tracing.
Things haven’t gone according to plan.
Baton Rouge, Lafayette, Lake Charles and several other cities are struggling to contain the virus. Hospital intensive care units are overwhelmed. School leaders don’t know whether they should open classrooms in the fall. And Louisiana has the highest per-capita rate of known coronavirus cases in the nation.
Contact tracers are supposed to speak with infected people as soon as they test positive, find out who they’ve been in contact with, and warn those people to self-quarantine. But that’s proved easier said than done: Early concerns about whether people would be unwilling to talk to contact tracers have been just one obstacle. Now, delays in test results are making it nearly impossible for contact tracers to do their work effectively.
In many cases, positive test results take as long as a week to return. By the time that happens, and contact tracers are able to get in touch with the person affected, the virus may have already left the sick person’s system and infected several new hosts. The state has spent $8 million on contact tracing since May 15, thanks to a $190 million federal grant for testing and tracing that’s supposed to last through 2023.
By then, state officials project they will have spent $48 million on contact tracing.
Though Louisiana now employs nearly 700 contact tracers, that group is still outnumbered by new daily cases, which have averaged 1,927 per day since July 20. When those people answer their phones, nearly three-fourths of them still aren’t providing the names of “close contacts” whom they may have infected.
As a result, it’s a pretty leaky system.
Contact tracers now reaching 69 percent of the people they target. Of those they’ve contacted, 27 percent have not answered or returned calls, while 4% have flatly declined to answer questions.