As COVID-19 soars in region, contact tracing becomes a challenge

South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster presses state residents to wear masks and take personal responsibility to help stop the coronavirus.
Published: Jul. 2, 2020 at 7:44 AM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WMBF) – South Carolina’s state doctors said the spike in coronavirus cases is making it harder for them to try to contain the virus through contact tracing.

On Wednesday, the Department of Health and Environmental Control announced there were 1,497 new cases and 24 additional deaths, which is the highest number of deaths reported in a single day in South Carolina.

When someone tests positive for the virus, contact tracers will reach out to patients a day or two later and will ask the patient who they have been in close contact with over the past couple of weeks. Then the contact tracer can alert that person, who may not know they’ve been in contact with a coronavirus patient, that they should self-quarantine and get tested.

But State Epidemiologist Dr. Linda Bell said during a news conference on Wednesday that it has become a challenge because the number of new coronavirus cases has stayed well past the 1,000 mark each day.

“With cases continuing at this level daily, 1,000 cases one day after the next then after the next, this is severely hampering our ability to conduct our contact tracing for cases. It’s a significant challenge to interview 1,000 patients each day, and if we think about an average of three contacts per case, that leaves us with having to interview approximately 4,000 people every single day,” Bell said.

The Department of Health and Environmental Control said that contact tracers are attempting to get in touch with everyone who has tested positive for the virus. The agency said there are currently 500 contact tracers and DHEC is bringing about 600 more in over the next two weeks.

But Bell said the increase in cases is also making it harder to control the disease since they’re not able to contain the virus around individual case reports.

“When there is widespread community transmission, contact tracing is less effective in preventing spread and at that point, the work that’s needed to combat disease spread is at the population level, the community level, it’s not at the individual level,” Bell said.

She urged South Carolinians to make the ‘unselfish decision’ and wear masks and practice social distancing in order to slow the spread of the virus.

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