Contact tracing’s ability to contain COVID-19 strained by high number of cases

South Carolina News

GREENVILLE, S.C. (WSPA) – With more than 1,000 cases reported daily, COVID-19’s spread throughout South Carolina is putting a strain on contact tracing, according to state epidemiologist Dr. Linda Bell.

“If you think about an average of three contacts per case, that leaves us with having to interview approximately 4,000 people every single day,” Dr. Bell said at a press conference Wednesday.

Dr. Bell said contact tracing is effective for containment with a relatively small number of cases, but when the virus is widespread, it’s not as effective.

“This means that focusing on group settings becomes our priority for contact tracing, in institutions where people congregate such as nursing homes or correctional facilities, certain businesses or other facilities,” she said. “The intent is to prevent local outbreaks within those facilities rather than containment around individual cases throughout the entire population.”

A DHEC spokesperson told 7 News the state currently has more than 500 contact tracers and monitors, who contact those who have been exposed to the virus and monitor and guide them after they self-isolate, respectively. The agency is planning to bring on about 600 more in the next two weeks.

Dr. Eric Ossmann, who is an emergency room physician and the chief of preparedness at Prisma Health, said there are too few tracers to zero in on the spread of the virus.

“It’s very difficult to narrow that down beyond just general municipalities, general areas of the state where there is significantly more spread,” he said.

Dr. Ossmann said he and others who work in the emergency room at Prisma Health are concerned that cases could spike after the Fourth of July holiday.

The wave of the virus we’re riding now began rising after Memorial Day weekend.

“Make no mistake, this is a really serious disease,” Dr. Ossmann said. “People die from this disease. People get really sick from this disease.”

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