Alaska virus contact tracing program working, officials say

ANCHORAGE, Alaska - Alaska’s contact tracing program is working well despite undergoing a strain in recent months during the effort to track coronavirus infections, public health officials said.

The state recently increased the size of its team of contact tracers as the number of new cases went on a downward trajectory, The Anchorage Daily News reported.

Public health experts believe the investigative process of tracking how a virus moves through a population is key to slowing the spread of COVID-19. The continued efficiency of contact tracing depends on the actions of Alaska residents and public officials.

"People are (now) getting outreached within 24 hours,” said Dr. Louisa Castrodale, an Alaska state epidemiologist.

Many businesses were closed and limits on social gatherings were in place in March, limiting contacts by infected people and making contact tracing more manageable, health officials said.

By the end of June contact tracers were having difficult tracking the virus as more people went out and mixed in groups.

Contact tracers recently began prioritizing cases and stopped following up with everyone, said Tari O’Connor, deputy director of the state Division of Public Health.

Officials overseeing the tracing program want to ensure they do not fall behind and have enough capacity to deal with clusters that take more time and effort to trace, O'Connor said.

“Part of the initial issue was that we were not able to get to all the cases in time,” O’Connor said. “And I think that we have solved that problem.”

The program still faces delays as contact tracers move their work into a new electronic system.

More tracers are in the system, “but we’re still kind of early on in learning how to monitor those kinds of metrics in a real time,” O'Connor said.

The number of infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some — especially older adults and people with existing health problems — it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.


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