Orange County

As Florida’s COVID-19 cases surge, tracing falls behind

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. — The medical consensus is clear: you need to test and you need to trace.  Right now, as Florida expands testing there are growing concerns that the state’s tracing of those infected is insufficient.

“We’re not there yet as a state, we have a lot of work to do before we get there,” says Rep Shevrin Jones (D - Broward County).

Read: ‘We are knocking on the door of critical’: Surge in COVID-19 cases put pressure on hospital ICU capacity

Jones tested positive for COVID-19 last week, now recovering he is sharing his experience with tracing.

“There was a series of questions, none of the questions leading to them finding out who I was around,” says Jones. “The young lady who I was on the phone with, her phone went down and we weren’t able to finish the conversation.”

It would take another four days before someone else from the Department of Health contacted Jones.

Contact tracing is an established method of fighting disease.  According to the CDC, “contact tracing is an effective disease control strategy that involves identifying cases and their contacts then working with them to interrupt disease transmission. This includes asking cases to isolate and contacts to quarantine at home voluntarily. Contact tracing is a key strategy to prevent the further spread of COVID-19.”

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But as Florida’s cases of COVID-19 surge and the state’s 7-day positive rate pushes 20%, there are new concerns that the state doesn’t have enough tracers to fight the outbreak.

The National Association of County and City Health Officials estimates that states need 30 tracers per population of 100,000.  By this metric, Florida would need at least 6,400 professionals to trace; current estimate are that the state only has about 2,000.

“We don’t have enough people who are contact tracers to keep up with contact tracing in a number of states,” says Kathryn Waldron of the R-Street Institute. “As a result people have looked for a faster way to do this.”

Waldron has watched as many states and countries have turned to technology to trace, with mixed results.

“We have yet to see an app that has really taken off and deliver on many of the promises that we were hoping contact tracing aps would deliver,” says Waldron.

Read: Florida adds nearly 10,000 more COVID-19 cases since yesterday; Orange County tops 15,000 cases total

The apps are limited by the number of people willing to use them and that many of the people most at-risk don’t have a smart phone.