DHS increasing contact tracing measures to treat possible COVID-19 exposure during primary election

Posted at 4:31 PM, Apr 09, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-09 17:33:30-04

The Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) has announced new tracing mechanisms for local health departments to track better people who may have been exposed to COVID-19 during Tuesday's election.

In the past few weeks, DHS says they've added more than 120 contact tracers to help local public health departments interview people confirmed with COVID-19. That way, they can contact others who may have been exposed.

Contact tracing staff have worked on following up on more than 1,000 interviews to identify and inform communications for the Milwaukee Health Department alone.

Governor Evers has requested $17 million in new funds for local public health agencies, and 64 additional staff at DHS in his proposed legislative package, to adequately respond to the public health needs in Wisconsin. It's a way for the state to manage this pandemic until effective medical treatment actively or a vaccine is available.

"Contact tracing is a critical tool in our ability to effectively manage COVID-19 now and moving forward," said DHS Secretary-designee Andrea Palm. "We will continue this important work to ensure that every case is followed up on, contacted, and anyone who may have been exposed notified. We hope the extraordinary efforts taken by local clerks, public health, voters, and poll workers helped minimize any transmission, but we stand prepared to respond if that isn't the case."

Despite efforts to protect the public by moving to postpone in-person voting on April 7, the Supreme Court ruled against that request, and the elections were held on Tuesday. The Wisconsin Elections Commission provided municipal and county clerks with personal protective equipment and guidance so that polling would be as safe as possible for poll workers and voters. However, DHS says there is some risk that people were exposed to COVID-19 while waiting to vote, casting their vote, or working the polls.

Local public health officials are interviewing people who are positive for COVID-19 about exposures, which includes possible exposures at the polls. This information will allow our surveillance epidemiologists the opportunity to identify if the election had any impact on the spread of COVID-19 in Wisconsin.

DHS says they will not have a full picture of the effects for several weeks. It takes time for people to develop symptoms, talk to a health care provider about testing, get tested, get the results, and be interviewed by a local public health contact tracer.

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