Oklahoma Health Services to move away from COVID-19 contact tracing

The state health department and the Oklahoma and Tulsa county health departments released a joint announcement Thursday saying they would move away from universal case investigations and contact tracing for COVID. -19.

In part because of how the omicron variant has led to more cases than ever – many of which are less severe and detected by home testing – investigators and epidemiologists will instead focus on outbreaks and clusters in settings. high risk, the departments said.

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Since November 2021, the state health department has encouraged Oklahomans to use a “self-service” online portal to conduct their own contact tracing.

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People who provide their contact information will receive a text message from the Department of Health to see their COVID-19 test results and see the department’s recommendations.

This will still happen as part of abandoning contact tracing.

The announcement came on the same day Oklahoma set an all-time record for COVID-19 hospitalizations. The state reported that an average of more than 2,000 patients were in hospitals across the state, according to a three-day average released Thursday by the state.

People can still receive a direct call from the health department in certain situations, such as if they have a connection to a high-risk setting like a long-term care facility or daycare.

“Individuals may also receive a direct call if the individual is potentially associated with a cluster or outbreak” of COVID-19, Tulsa Health Department spokeswoman Leanne Stephens said in an email. mail.

People may also receive a call from a health department staff member about an illness other than COVID-19.

For example, contact tracing was used to investigate the recent salmonella outbreak “and remains a vital public health tool,” Stephens said.

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The change will not affect how data on COVID-19 cases will be reported by the state health department, an agency spokeswoman said.

In the joint statement from the state health department, Oklahoma City-County Health Department, and Tulsa Health Department, the agencies said Oklahoma is part of many public health organizations who will make a similar transition.

They cited a statement from the Association of Public Health Laboratories, the Association of State and Territory Health Officials, the Big Cities Health Coalition, the Council of State and Territory Epidemiologists and the National Association of Country and City Health Officials.

The organizations said several factors have recently made universal contact tracing less effective:

  • A large number of asymptomatic and less severe COVID-19 cases
  • Many infections never make it into official systems, due to increased use of home testing and people with mild cases who may not be tested
  • Highest risk of transmission occurring before symptoms start
  • The shorter incubation time of the omicron variant

Instead, public health organizations have suggested that local public health strategies should include increased vaccination – including boosters – especially for people at high risk of severe outcomes with COVID-19, messages strong on the importance of mask-wearing and person-targeted prevention strategies. most at risk, among others.

They suggested conducting outbreak investigations and targeted case investigations “if needed to prevent or understand disease transmission in high-risk settings” or for people with severe illness or unusual symptoms. .

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