Does Jefferson County have enough COVID-19 contact tracers?

Contact tracing efforts in Jefferson County

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) - The national coronavirus contact tracing workforce has tripled in recent weeks, according to an NPR survey.

But as more businesses reopen, some are wondering if Jefferson County is adequately staffed to help contain outbreaks.

Contact tracing is one defense the county has to help stop the spread of COVID-19, and while medical leaders at the Jefferson County Health Department said the county has a sufficient number of contact tracers, an infectious disease doctor at UAB said the task is next to impossible.

Dr. Wesley Willeford said there are roughly 60 contact tracers in Jefferson County to keep track of the fluctuating number of new COVID-19 cases.

“It’s been enough for our purposes so far,” said Dr. Willeford.

“One thing that we are working on is we’re trying to find other mechanisms to be able to expand that when we need to,” Dr. Willeford said.

Contact tracers are tasked with tracking down everyone an infected person came in contact with, directing them to resources to help them safely quarantine.

“At the moment, we do not have a mechanism to sort of check on them to make sure that they’re doing it. We’re asking them in good faith to isolate and be very careful knowing that we just don’t want them to spread the virus any further,” Dr. Willeford explained.

Contact tracing has been successfully used for other communicable diseases like tuberculosis for a long time.

But UAB’s Director of Infectious Diseases said it’s almost impossible to isolate a single case of COVID-19 and keep it contained.

“When the disease gets this common, and you have this many infections, it becomes really impossible and impractical to think about doing contact tracing the way you describe it,” Dr. Jeanne Marrazzo explained.

Dr. Willeford is still encouraging everyone to follow recommended health guidelines like wearing a mask, proper hygiene, and social distancing.

He said if you feel like you may have COVID-19, it’s wise to start self-isolating, even before you receive your test results.

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