DOUGLAS — As COVID-19 cases in Wyoming surge and health officials cannot keep up, they now are asking infected individuals to do their own contact tracing and notifications.
Protocols for contact tracing changed in Wyoming last week, according to Converse County Public Health Nurse Manager Darcey Cowardin, who went live on social media Nov. 5 to go over the new methods.
“Contact tracing is where we are notified someone tested positive for COVID. We then contact them and do an investigation as to who they’ve been in contact with and who we need to quarantine. The problem is, with the large (COVID-positive) numbers our state has experienced within the last two months, we are unable to keep up on contact tracing. In a lot of cases, people aren’t getting their call when they know they’ve been exposed. It’s happening throughout the state,” Cowardin said.
The recent dramatic increases in Wyoming’s case counts have added to the delays.
Wyoming Department of Health was handling much of the contact tracing statewide after it got to be too overwhelming for local staff; then the numbers even got too high for the state to handle. WDH brought in 20 members of the Wyoming National Guard to help, and it still wasn’t enough.
Now, WDH has contracted out the contact tracing to a private company who will be handling it, Cowardin said.
“One of the big changes throughout the state is that we will no longer be contacting people who need to quarantine. We will contact the person who is the positive case and ask them to contact people whom they have had close contact with.
“We will provide any guidance they need, such as who needs to quarantine and for how long. The department of health will also state specific instructions on their website regarding how long to quarantine and/or isolate for, depending upon the situation,” Cowardin explained.
“It’s just impossible to keep up with the numbers of cases coming in daily from the state and our office, too. There’s no way we could keep up when we were trying to contact every person who needs to be in quarantine.”
Wyoming State Health Officer Dr. Alexia Harrist said with the pandemic and other diseases, they consider contact tracing to be one of their most important strategies to slow and limit the progress of a virus.
“Overall, it can help protect you and your family and friends from illness, and can support your community’s efforts to keep schools and businesses operating,” Harrist said.
The actual quarantine guidelines have not changed, Cowardin said, which are 14 days from the date of exposure; if you have COVID, your isolation date is 10 days from the start of your symptoms, although that could be extended depending upon symptoms, but at least for 10 days.
“I think for a while our county kind of rode on that perception we weren’t having it as bad here, but let me tell you — we are. We have several people hospitalized and several with long term complications.
“The vast majority will recover without problems, but we have a pretty good-sized group of people who still continue to have symptoms months after testing positive for coronavirus. With coronavirus being so new, we just don’t know enough about it to say what the long-term health problems might be once you test positive for COVID. That’s why this gets treated differently than a lot of things, because it’s new and we don’t know for sure,” she said.
Converse County Public Health and WDH officials, as well as representatives from the new contact tracing company Waller Hall, will contact individuals who have tested positive and continue to give them isolation orders.
“They just started this week. Using an outside company will hopefully relieve some of the workload from our office and from the state epidemiology department. With the huge increase in cases, not just in our county but statewide, keeping up with just our positive cases, let alone quarantines, was impossible. Hopefully using this company will allow positive cases to be contacted more quickly,” Cowardin said.
Harrist said WDH has worked up easy to follow instructions for anyone who may be a “close contact” with a COVID19-positive person.
New information outlining what to do when testing positive, what to do if exposed to COVID-19, isolation and quarantine can be found at the health department’s website at www.health.wyo.gov/publichealth/ infectious-disease-epidemiology-unit/ disease/novel-coronavirus.
Harrist said cooperating with public health representatives and following isolation and quarantine directions remains necessary, as well as getting tested when it is recommended.
“We believe our follow up efforts, which we worked on together with our dedicated county partners, helped slow and limit the spread of the virus for many months,” Harrist said. “We will continue to pursue options to expand contract tracing resources and staff.”