Contact tracers facing obstacles with contacting COVID-19 positive patients


HONOLULU (KHON2) — Contact tracing is one of the tools that the state is using to help control COVID-19 spread.

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However, contact tracers say that they have hit some roadblocks when it comes to getting a hold of someone who has tested positive for COVID-19.

“It all starts with even just getting a phone number, to begin with–any phone number,” said Lauren Usagawa, who is a disease investigator at the Department of Health Disease Investigation Branch. “So, most of the times, the case gets reported to us electronically. If there’s no phone number attached to it electronically, we have to wait for the actual case report to come in.”

Usagawa said that waiting for this case report may take some time, leading to delays with contact tracing.

“I think it has to do with newer laboratories onboarding that aren’t accustomed to sending us laboratory signals electronically, and sometimes the phone numbers are not getting transmitted or it’s getting transmitted incorrectly,” said DOH Acting State Epidemiologist Dr. Sarah Kemble.

Usagawa said that receiving a lack of information isn’t the only problem. Due to robo callers, people often do not answer numbers they don’t know, but even if the tracers leave a voicemail, people still do not call them back.

“At least one case that we’re trying to call a day would probably end up just not answering.”

Lauren Usagawa

If contact tracers are still unable to get ahold of someone after multiple calls, a letter will be sent to their address on file or their work will be contacted.

“We do try and call the doctors that that did test them try and see if they have another number on file if they have an emergency contact, anything, you know, other people that we could even try and get in touch with,” said Usagawa.

“It’s really important to talk to us so we can at least inform and give information for their contacts on how to quarantine whether or not they should be tested right away. You know, any resources they need in order to be able to quarantine properly,” said Usagawa. “We have been asking doctors, physicians, can you guys let them know that to expect a call from Department of Health.”

Kemble said the department is working on a plan with health care centers and providers to assist with contact tracing by providing patients with information on their COVID-19 test and quarantining.

However, the Department of Health isn’t the only state agency dealing with robocalls.

The Hawaii Department of Labor and Industrial Relations said its new call center was recently flooded with them, preventing actual callers from getting through. The department said it made some tweaks, and now claimants will have to wait in a queue to get through to an agent.

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