As COVID-19 cases increase in Buchanan County, the St. Joseph Health Department is falling behind with contact tracing.
According to the Missouri State Health Department, the seven-day average of COVID-19 cases in Buchanan County has increased from 15 at the beginning of September to 38 on Sept. 26.
St. Joseph Health Director Debra Bradley said her staff usually is able to contact people who test positive within one day, but the influx of cases has made it difficult to get in touch with close contacts. While it used to happen the day of notification of a positive test, the health department said it now takes four to five days.
“We try to call the businesses to let them know they have an employee, or we try to call the friend who happened to be hanging out with this person who was positive, but it might be four days or five days later,” Bradley said.
The department’s main priorities with contact tracing are people who test positive and students.
“The state health director has said that we are to make contact with students who are sent home on quarantine, so because of that directive, we are working diligently to get those contacts,” Bradley said. “So with just those two groups, we are struggling to stay on top of it.”
To contact as many people as possible, Bradley is hiring more tracers. The health department currently has six permanent contact tracers for the week. They will be hiring two more for the week, as well as four for the weekend.
These contact tracers are not city employees but are hired from a temp agency through funding from the CARES Act. Health department employees also help with contact tracing on top of their additional responsibilities. In fact, they are being offered overtime to work weekends or stay late for contact tracing purposes.
“When this all started, we were able to call everybody that day,” Bradley said. “We stayed up on it, we worked late, we worked through lunches, we worked weekends, but we stayed up to date. But because of this explosion, we’ve not been able to stay up on it, so that’s why we’re bringing in more people. We’re offering overtime, and we’re going to get caught up and we’re going to stay caught up.”
Bradley said if people followed guidelines, it would help the department not have to rely on contact tracing.
“If they believe they’re a contact, they need to stay home for 14 days,” Bradley said. “And if people would take that initiative, then we wouldn’t have to stress so much about calling everybody who’s a contact.”
Bradley reiterated the importance of social distancing and face coverings to help decrease cases in Buchanan County.