End of COVID contact tracing at local WV health departments

CHARLESTON, W. Va. – Pandemic fatigue is one of the reasons contact tracing will end at health departments responding to positive COVID-19 cases in West Virginia.

Malcolm Lanham, director of population health at the Mid-Ohio Valley Health Department, told MetroNews on Thursday that most of their calls and texts to people who contract the virus go unanswered.

“People are tired and exhausted from the pandemic,” Lanham said. “People don’t take our phone calls or contact us, even for advice, so we make a lot of effort to call those people.”

The state Department of Health and Human Resources this week issued new guidelines to local health departments to stop investigations and contact tracing. The new recommendations align with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

Dr Ayne Amjad

“We’re trying different efforts because it’s been almost two years and it’s getting difficult to contact everyone,” state health official Dr. Ayne Amjad said at Wednesday’s press briefing on the coronavirus with state officials.

Efforts to reach older residents will continue, however, Amjad said.

“You may not be called or we’re trying to contact people who may not be texting, maybe older people who don’t use cellphones,” she said. “These are efforts to try to get public health messages out to inform people.”

Staffing shortages aren’t as big an issue as the number of positive cases they hear about per day, Lanham said.

“We’ve had days where we’ve had more than 400 new cases a day for the last month or so. Once a case is assigned to us, we have 24 hours to contact them, so we tried that,” he said.

DHHR wrote in a statement to local health departments, “This pivot is an important step as the pandemic tends to become endemic in West Virginia and around the world.

If you test positive for COVID-19, public health departments will promote self-care education for all positive cases, but will no longer conduct universal case investigation and contact tracing, discharge quarantine or return to work letters.

Lanham said that despite their own health department staffing issues, they would continue to follow state and CDC recommendations.

“If the state hadn’t lowered expectations for case investigations and contact tracing, we would continue to do what we are mandated to do anyway,” he said.

Health officials said it’s recommended that you follow CDC guidelines if you test positive for COVID or have been exposed to the virus.

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