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Why Virginia is ending contact tracing amid omicron variant

COVID-19 rapid test
Posted at 5:11 PM, Jan 26, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-26 18:12:24-05

RICHMOND, Va. -- Virginia is joining a small number of states at ending the practice of attempting to contact trace every case of COVID-19. Instead, they will shift to focusing their efforts on outbreaks and cases in high-risk settings.

"Omicron is different and so it was kind of necessary to make this change at this time," Marshall Vogt, a senior epidemiologist with the Virginia Department of Health said.

Vogt said while several factors led to the shift in focus, the omicron variant is one of the main reasons. Because of the surge in cases, it was difficult to keep up with individual investigations.

Additionally, Vogt said that compared to previous variants, omicron's incubation period is shorter.

"By the time you realize you're sick and are able to get tested, it's very likely that your contacts have already been exposed and they may already be getting sick. So it's a lot harder to do contract tracing," Vogt said.

He said that now the VDH will focus its efforts on outbreaks and cases in high-risk settings like long-term care facilities and hospitals.

"Where COVID transmission is more impactful and might be able to be better controlled," Vogt said.

CBS6 asked about school settings as some localities are removing mask mandates in line with Governor Glenn Youngkin's executive order.

Vogt said they will continue to support those investigations as requested.

"It's going to be variable from school to school and kind of district to district, county to county, in terms of how engaged VDH and the schools will be," Vogt said.

Virginia's announcement about the end of contact tracing follows similar decisions by health officials in at least two states, Kansas and New York. Several national health groups have also released a statement in support of such transitions.

The Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association said the decision makes sense.

"Especially in an environment, as you know, where resources are not unfortunately unlimited," Julian Walker, Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association's vice president of communications said.

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