States ramp up contact tracing efforts as delta and omicron cases rise

WASHINGTON D.C. — As more states report cases of the omicron variant, the World Health Organization says contact tracing will be key to containing it.

States have been contact tracing since the pandemic started but those efforts have had to evolve along the way.

READ: Omicron concerns drive Central Florida residents to get COVID-19 vaccine boosters

For example, some things like those contact tracing apps from early in the pandemic have faded away because they really didn’t work.

Now experts say more states lean on individuals for help with the process.

The National Academy for State Health Policy is a nonpartisan forum that has been tracking those efforts..

READ: ‘When COVID goes up, tourist taxes go down’: How new travel rules could impact local tourism

Based on their research, states used three major contact tracing methods: state and local resources, partnering with other agencies, or using contractors.

Executive director Hemi Tewarson said states had the most success when contact tracers were familiar to the communities.

“I think it really has depended on the ability of those contact tracers to be persuasive, frankly, and get people to contact them back. That’s the key part, you have to have a two-way street of communication,” she said.

READ: Coronavirus: COVID-19 outbreak aboard NOLA-based Norwegian Cruise Line ship sickens at least 10

This summer, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention awarded millions of dollars to states for contact tracing, especially in rural areas.

Around the same time, the delta variant started surging and states had to adjust those efforts because they couldn’t reach everyone who tested positive.

“Let’s think about how we make sure that where we think there could be a potential outbreak where we think there’s a higher risk, congregate care settings, schools, etc., we’re going to make sure we focus on from a state perspective contacting tracing those people.”

READ: Scientists say sequencing is vital to staying ahead of Omicron variant

As more people use at home COVID-19 test kits, Tewarson said some states are now giving people clear directions about contact tracing within their circle.

“I think we have to have trust in people that they’re going to want to do the right thing around their families and friends who’ve they’ve been exposed to if they’ve had COVID,” said Tewarson.

Some states are also ramping up contact tracing within schools as another way to keep them open all year.