Contact tracers having difficulty reaching cases during surge


HONOLULU (KHON2) — On Friday, the state had around 4,800 active COVID-19 cases.

Testing has increased dramatically since the surge began several weeks ago, and contact tracers are once again having a tough time reaching possible COVID-19 patients.

The state was reaching about 80 to 90% of contacts earlier this summer, but it’s recently dropped to 66%

“What we’re seeing lately in the trend, comparing June to July is 49% of the cases diagnosed and reported in July, did not answer their phone and an additional 12% when they answered the phone, refused the interview,” explained state health department epidemiologist Josh Quint.

Officials say that’s not the only problem; many people are having cold-like symptoms and don’t believe they have COVID-19, and are going to work, school, and gatherings and spreading the virus.

“If you’re not feeling well, you need to get tested for COVID-19,” said Dr. Janet Berreman, Kauai District Health Officer. “I’ve heard people say, ‘There’s this thing going around,’ and yes, the thing that is going around in our community is COVID-19, and it’s the delta variant and it’s very highly transmissible. So, if you’re sick, don’t go out and go get tested.”

There are about 300 contact tracers, but 30 are currently on vacation.

Health officials said some have been called back to deal with the surge.

“We do have to prioritize, at this point we are in a crisis mode, which means we need to get in touch with those who need to hear from us first,” explained Chantelle Matagi, state health department’s contact tracing lead investigator.

First priorities include schools, hospitals, and long-term care facilities.

“What you need to do if you’re a close contact is you need to quarantine at home, stay away from other people for 10 days from the last day of your contact with the person who’s now sick,” explained Dr. Berreman.

Vaccinated close contacts do not need to quarantine but officials strongly recommend they get tested five days later.

Contact tracers say misinformation has also played a role in reaching people.

“From the phone calls that my team members have made, a lot of it has to do with the fact that we’re dealing with a lot of misinformation, people are misconstruing science with political agendas,” Matagi said. “We need to take it out of the political realm and understand that in the Pacific, we know about disease, because historically, we have dealt with de-population, and if we don’t get shots in hands, and start listening to our trusted messengers, and providing information that is rooted in science, then that will cost people their lives.”

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“When we come to the community, and we say get vaccinated, it’s not because we’re doing this because we don’t care about you, it’s because we do care about you,” she continued. “We want to make sure that you are here, for your children’s graduations, for your family members, and for all those who care and love about you and love you so much.”

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