Some contact tracers struggle to track rising infections

Schenectady County

SCHENECTADY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — After Thanksgiving, Schenectady County has seen an influx of coronavirus cases. County officials say contact tracing is crucial in order to stop the spread.

“We try to balance, making sure we’re bringing on enough people (contact tracers) and that we’re also training people deeply enough that they are comfortable doing the work and that they can do the work well. Right now, we have recently on boarded, I believe, 15 to 20 people. And then we also have almost 30 of our fellow county employees who agreed to help,” says Claire Proffitt, Supervising Public Health Nurse for Schenectady County.

Warren County health officials are doing the same thing. Warren County may not have as many contact tracers as schenectady county does, put they’re working extra hours to make sure the job gets done. “Everyday, in these last couple of weeks, [contact tracers] are on from 7 a.m. to almost 11 p.m. And the only reason they don’t go later is because you can’t really call people on the phone much past 10 to 10:30 p.m. People don’t answer their phone at that point,” says Don Lehman, Director of Public Affairs for Warren County. Lehman says luckily, the county has contact tracing under control.

Proffitt says Schenectady County receives phone calls everyday from residents, many residents say they’ve never received a phone call after they came into contact with a person who tested positive to COVID-19.

 “We’ve had people who have no gotten a call, or the number of calls that they expected. What we really try to tell people is that they can always reach out to us if they need us. I think there’s confusion about what our role is. I think part of it is that public health is not something the public usually thinks about. In public health, we’re not your primary care provider, we’re not your nurse, we’re not the person who’s going to keep you safe and healthy. Of course we want to do that when we can and we will do what we can to connect you with the resources you need. Ultimately, our responsibly is our health of the public, is to prevent the spread of COVID-19,” says Proffitt.

Proffitt says there’s a group of tracers who return voicemails. The average time frame for them to get back to people is within 24 hours. There’s usually over 100+ voicemails everyday. “Unfortunately, if your test result took six or seven days to come back because of delays at the lab, investigating your case fully and finding all your contacts is a lower priority than somebody who’s test came back yesterday and who spent time in a nursing home or medical facility,” says Proffitt.

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