Challenges surface as COVID-19 contact tracing efforts continue

Local News

LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — Contact tracing remains a big factor in trying to stop the spread of COVID-19. It can present challenges, though, when not everyone is forthcoming with information.

The Southern Nevada Health District works with various community partners when it comes to contact tracing. Those involved say it is working, despite some issues.

“It’s not a perfect system,” said Brian Labus, assistant professor at the UNLV School of Public Health.

He oversees the contact tracing program at the university.

“It’s all run by students, and they’re working every day to investigate cases here in Southern Nevada,” Labus explained.

Roughly 200 work part-time making calls to people who tested positive and their close contacts. Labus notes it’s a rewarding but challenging job, especially now as COVID cases spike.

“When we’re having a lot of transmission in the community, contact tracing is not as useful at stopping disease transmission,” he said. “As we get things under control, the usefulness increases, as well, because then, we can track down everyone of those cases.”

SNHD says more positivity rates means the potential to delay sharing information.

“It’s hard to make sure that just those cases have been notified of their diagnosis, but also to collect all the information of contact,” shared Kimberly Hertin, disease surveillance supervisor for the health district.

That requires people to remember and share their contacts’ names and numbers. Some choose to withhold those details.

“We have people who will not tell us where they were or not tell us who they were around,” said Labus. “There’s not much we can do in that situation.”

When this happens, it can delay notifications, or some people may not even know at all about their exposure.

“We have to rely on them to provide that information so we can protect the people around them,” Labus stressed. “It’s not to get someone in trouble. It’s really to intervene in that disease transmission process so that they don’t spread it to somebody else.”

The state Division of Public and Behavioral Health reports traditional contact tracing helps identify about 25% of cases — only a quarter of Nevada’s population. But efforts by UNLV students assist with reducing the spread as much as possible.

To try and identify the other 75% of cases and reduce exposure, the state encourages everyone to download the COVID Trace Nevada app. Only about 4% of the population has done this so far, and for it to be effective, at least 15% need to start using it on their phones.

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