Contact tracing compliance raises concerns
When Grand County Public Health reached out to Granby resident Alex Geist, she already knew she had potentially been exposed to COVID-19 after her father-in-law tested positive.
But she was unsure what would come next.
After talking with officials at the health department, the Geist family was put on an initial 10-day quarantine and given resources for groceries and other expenses. Ultimately, the family would end up quarantining for almost a month because Geist and her husband both caught COVID-19 as well.
Throughout that time, public health checked in with the family to keep track of symptoms and continue their assistance, and Geist said it was truly helpful for her family.
“Public health was wonderful. The lady who I spoke with was so sweet and really helped explain everything, especially because I have anxiety,” Geist said.
When contact tracing works properly, it not only provides information and resources for individuals and families, it helps prevent the spread of COVID-19, Public Health Director Abbie Baker explained.
However, Baker said that lately fewer people are willing to share information with public health, as compared to earlier in the pandemic when the majority of the people provided the necessary information.
“About a third of the cases have been refusing to interview or provide contact information,” Baker said.
According to Baker, it’s unclear what has prompted the change in attitude, with many people not offering any reasoning for declining to answer contact tracing questions.
“Maybe they’ll say, ‘I’m aware, thanks’ and hang up the phone,” Baker said. “Other times, they say, ‘I’ll get in contact with everyone and let them know,’ so they don’t want to reveal their contacts to us.”
Because public health can’t force anyone to talk to them, this change has hindered their ability to do their job in communicating potential exposures and quarantining those people to prevent further spread.
Another side effect has been angry residents who know of a potential exposure or feel at risk and then accuse public health of withholding information, which Baker said is not the case.
“We can’t act on information we don’t have,” she said. “It’s frustrating for us too.”
The typical contact tracing call can last anywhere from 30 minutes to a few hours depending on the person’s symptoms, the number of contacts potentially exposed and how well the person can recall who they had seen and what they’ve done.
When public health is given contacts, they reach out almost immediately following the initial interview to guide people to quarantine, so that if they do end up testing positive, it limits the possible spread to the household.
“This way it’s little clusters of cases instead of an entire workplace being out because … someone who was contagious and should’ve been quarantined was at work,” Baker said.
Over the past week, Grand County’s positive case rate has dropped significantly after spiking, in part, due to an ongoing outbreak at Winter Park Resort involving over 150 staff members.
On Wednesday, the county confirmed 43 cases over the past week.
Ultimately, Baker emphasized that the contact tracing process is key to keeping the county’s case count on the decline.
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