Milwaukee Health Department seeks public's assistance with contact tracing

Posted at 11:18 AM, Nov 11, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-11 17:44:18-05

MILWAUKEE — With the recent surge in COVID-19 cases, the Milwaukee Health Department is asking for the public's help with contact tracing. For the third time in less than a week, COVID-19 positive cases in Wisconsin have topped 7,000. Wednesday, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services reported there were 7,048 new positive cases.

So far, throughout the pandemic, the Milwaukee Health Department has been the one reaching out to close contacts of COVID-19 patients to tell them to quarantine. However, it's getting to be too much.

Now, the health department is asking the patients themselves to reach out to their close contacts, therefore supplementing the contact tracing efforts.

“Contact tracing is most effective when it is direct, prompt, and conveys actionable information. People who have tested positive for COVID-19 – those who are asymptomatic or have mild or moderate symptoms – can assist by communicating with their own close contacts,” Acting Health Commissioner Marlaina Jackson said in a press release.

Due to the increase in cases, it is taking the health department longer to reach out to close contacts. With this virus, though, sooner is better than later.

“As the case volumes grow, we want to speed the contact tracing work. The best way to avoid delays, or the real possibility of a contact not receiving information, is to encourage person-to-person contact tracing,” said Jackson.

The health department for Washington and Ozaukee Counties says it is a practice they have already been doing.

“At this point, we are overwhelmed and I would say a majority of health departments in the state are overwhelmed, said Kirsten Johnson of the Washington Ozaukee Health Department.

The Washington Ozaukee Health Department says before the spike in COVID-19 cases was able to get in touch with a person if they were COVID positive within 24 hours, tell them to quarantine and then contact all these close contacts within 48 hours.

“We are unable to contact all the positives within 24 hours and we have let go entirely of contacting all the close contacts,” said Johnson.

The only exception for Ozaukee and Washington Counties are schools. They still contact trace there.

The Milwaukee Health Department defined close contacts as someone who has been in direct physical contact with a person who has tested positive; this includes handshakes and hugs.

People are also close contacts if they live in the same place or have spent the night in the same place as a positive individual. If someone has been within six feet of an infected person for more than 15 minutes within a 24 hour period, they would be considered a close contact.

COVID-19 patients should know that they were able to spread COVID-19 starting two days before the first symptoms started. If no symptoms have appeared, someone testing positive was able to spread COVID-19 starting at least two days before a positive COVID-19 test was taken.

Close contacts are asked to quarantine for 14 days after their last contact with the COVID-19 positive patient. Even if that close contact tests negative within those two weeks, they are still asked to quarantine for the full 14 days.

The lack of contact tracing in the state is concerning to the Wisconsin Hospital Association president and CEO, Eric Borgerding who says hospitals are already overwhelmed with patients.

“We could triple the amount of testing we are doing in Wisconsin but I don’t think it will be as effect as it could be if we aren’t doing a better job of contact tracing,” said Borgerding.

Milwaukee says say they have not stopped contact tracing but they do have a backlog of people needing to be contacted.

If you tested positive for COVID-19 but don't want your close contact to know it was you who exposed them, you can anonymously let them know here.

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