DOH: Late Results, Missed Calls Create Contact Tracing Delays

Oct 22, 2020

Credit South Dakota Department of Health

North Dakota is asking people to conduct their own contact tracing as the state’s Department of Health is overwhelmed with new COVID-19 cases.

Here in South Dakota, some doctors are giving similar directions as the Department of Health works to track down close contacts.

Secretary of Health Kim Malsam-Rysdon says contact tracers prioritize certain cases. Those include K-12 students and teachers, people older than 65 and people in congregate living situations like correctional or long-term care facilities.

“The household close contacts of those individuals are handled by the investigators," Malsam-Rysdon explains. "Those are done right away when the investigation is done. And then for other contacts that would not be in the house, like workplace or social contacts, the National Guard is contacting those individuals.”

National Guard members make up about 150 of the state’s 366 contact tracers, with more to be added.

In some cases, it can take weeks to reach a potential close contact. The Secretary of Health does not attribute that to a lack of tracers.

“We do see some situations where the lab result perhaps does not get to us in a timely way, or where we make multiple efforts to contact a person, we’re not able to reach them in a week’s time.”

The Department of Health sends those individuals a notification letter.

Regardless of cause, delays are regular enough that healthcare systems are adjusting their test protocols. Dr. David Basel is Vice President of Clinical Quality with Avera Medical Group. During a press conference on Monday, he says doctors are explaining the situation to patients.

“So if you turn positive, you need to start thinking already about who have I been in close contact with, six feet for fifteen minutes, and consider reaching out to those people to let them know that they’ve been exposed and they need to isolate.” 

The CDC now defines a close contact as someone within six feet of a confirmed COVID-19 case for a total of 15 minutes or more over the course of a day.