As Covid cases drop, Vermont ends contact tracing contract

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The Zampieri State Office Building in Burlington
The Zampieri State Office Building on Cherry Street in Burlington houses the headquarters of the Vermont Department of Health and other state offices. Photo Wikimedia Commons

State moves away from third-party contact tracing as Omicron cases continue to decline in Vermont.

Last spring, the Vermont Department of Health outsourced most of the Covid-19 contact tracing to AM Trace, a contractor in Leesburg, Va. Vermont has paid the company — now called AM — nearly $15 million since then.

But as public health policy shifts to living with Covid rather than eradicating it, Vermont plans to end its contract with AM soon, state epidemiologist Patsy Kelso said Tuesday. There’s no set timeline for the process, Kelso said, but the state plans to take over Covid contact tracing eventually, with the help of nine new recruits.

“We can’t absorb the full scope of work to the health department at this point,” Kelso said.

The news comes just a week after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advised public health departments to move away from contact tracing and investigate every case of coronavirus. The new guidance says the focus should be on prisons, nursing homes, nursing homes and other high-risk settings.

At the start of the pandemic, identifying every exposure to the coronavirus was key to slowing the spread. Each positive case meant multiple calls to people who may have been exposed. Contact tracers generally maintain regular contact with people in quarantine, offering resources, support and information as needed.

As cases soared, health departments struggled to notify people of exposures in time. Vermont faced similar setbacks as the highly transmissible variant of Omicron spread through schools and daycares.

The virus is still circulating in the community, but the state’s testing volume has declined. Earlier this year, the state Department of Education said schools can stop contact tracing. Home testing has largely replaced mass testing sites at public clinics.

All of this means that fewer coronavirus cases are being reported to the state and the demand for contact tracing is down. AM’s workforce in Vermont has shrunk as a result.

By the end of this week, the company should only have 40 workers dedicated to contact tracing in Vermont, according to Kelso. At the height of the pandemic, the state had at least 200 contact tracers, including AM workers, according to Kelso.

“In the future, it may be something we turn to again with Covid, but it may not be,” she added. “It will depend on the number of cases and the clinical picture.”

The Health Ministry reported 48 new cases on Tuesday, a marked drop from more than 1,700 daily cases at the January peak.

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