Contact tracing helping prevent delta variant surges

Joseph Ortiz
Posted at 10:11 AM, Jul 09, 2021

The delta variant now accounts for more than 51% of COVID-19 cases in the United States, according to new estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Leaders from the CDC and other federal agencies are deploying to communities nationwide where the delta variant is spreading. The goal is to get vaccination rates up in areas where they're still low. One of the things they're also helping with is contact tracing to prevent big surges.

“I think the one thing that public health officials and contact tracers will be looking out for are these breakthrough cases, so cases and people who have been vaccinated previously,” said Crystal Watson, DrPH, Senior Scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. “And that information is really important for us to really understand how well the vaccines that we do have are protecting against this delta variant and any future variants that we might encounter.”

Dr. Watson has been working on contact tracing efforts since the beginning of the pandemic.

Although we're seeing an increase in COVID-19 cases with the delta variant, the number of cases is much lower than the height of the pandemic. She says that's making it easier to reach people who may have been missed before when health departments were overwhelmed.

We never reached the level of contact tracers that health departments across the country had hoped to hire, but Dr. Watson says we're in a good spot with staffing for the current situation in the pandemic.

She says another improvement is that health departments have come up with better ways to reach people.

“I think some people will be very receptive to it and willing to take the actions that public health is recommending to quarantine if you've been exposed, in particular. Some people are willing but unable to do that and that might be more difficult right now because people are largely back to work.

Some places are doing better than others with helping people who need to quarantine stay at home. They're providing services like help getting food, replacement child or adult care, and replacement income.