What happened to contact tracing?

Once touted as a key strategy to prevent the coronavirus's spread, contact tracing has since taken a backseat to vaccinations and mask-wearing amid the pandemic.

More than a dozen states have scaled back contact tracing efforts, according to the National Academy for State Health Policy. Virginia became the most recent state to limit contact-tracing efforts Jan. 25. The state will no longer investigate every COVID-19 case and instead focus contact tracing efforts on cases and outbreaks in high-risk settings, such as long-term care facilities. 

"We had more than 600 cases reported to us yesterday," Breanne Forbes Hubbard, population health manager of the Mount Rogers Health District in Marion, Va., told WCYB. "We can't trace and isolate that many cases, we don't have enough staff for it. It's just too many people for this omicron surge."

Virginia is not the only state to cite skyrocketing case numbers as the reason for ending or scaling back contact-tracing work. Massachusetts closed its contact tracing program in December 2021 to focus on COVID-19 testing and vaccine outreach, citing the omicron surge as the main reason. Nebraska also amended its contact tracing program last December, shifting focus to large clusters of infections versus individual cases. 

Nationwide, omicron cases appeared to peak Jan. 14, with a seven-day case average of 806,795. During the delta surge, the seven-day case average hit 164,374 Sept. 2, according to data tracked by The New York Times. 

 

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