VANCOUVER, WA (KPTV) - COVID-19 cases in Clark County has skyrocketed up 50 percent in the last month, according to the county's health office.

And now, because there are constantly so many new cases, it's changing how the county does contact tracing.

Clark County Public Health will no longer identify, notify, or monitor people who've been in close contact with new cases.

"The numbers are skyrocketing, and they're not just in Clark County, the rest of Washington is seeing huge numbers as well," Clark County Health Officer Dr. Alan Melnick said.

He said usually with contact tracing, staff interviews those recently diagnosed with COVID-19, figures out where they were when they were contagious and who they've been within 6 feet of for at least 15 minutes.

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They tell the cases to isolate, and they call the close contacts to quarantine, but now they have to prioritize because even though they've added about 90 staff members over the last several months to do that work, they still can't keep up.

"When the numbers get this high, you can't even get to all the cases in a timely way, and then you can't isolate them," Dr. Melnick said. "While contact tracing is important, and I wouldn't say it's a waste of time, it's not as high a priority as getting to all the cases."

Now they'll be relying on those who are infected to be the ones to tell their close contacts, giving them a set of instructions to pass along, while the county instead focuses its efforts on any potential exposures at places like schools, long-term care facilities, the jail or food processing plants.

"We need to go after the highest risk situations and priority places to do this work," Dr. Melnick said. "If we could just get people to physically distance and wear masks and get the numbers down, which the community is quite capable of doing, then we could get back to robust contact tracing to really get it down to minuscule levels, but right now that's a pipe dream."

FOX 12 reached out to the Portland metro area counties to see if they're in a similar situation.

Clackamas County said they also have too many cases to do timely contact tracing, that some people may never hear from them; they're prioritizing people who are high risk, worksites, and outbreaks.

Washington County said they're still doing contact tracing but no longer regularly checking in with close contacts to see if they develop symptoms.

Multnomah County issued the following statement of FOX 12:

"Last week in Multnomah County case counts increased for the sixth consecutive week, hospitalizations and positivity rate increased to the second highest point since the beginning of the pandemic. On average in the last week our case investigators received an average of 223 new cases per day.

Case investigators have until recently conducted detailed interviews with every case they could reach and attempted to reach every close contact. But Multnomah County Public Health has begun shifting its strategy to manage the increase.

As cases increased, case investigators have begun prioritizing outbreaks and specifically outbreaks in high-risk settings such as long term care facilities and other congregate living settings."

Investigations are no longer able to reach every person who tests positive for COVID-19 and contact tracers are no longer able to attempt to reach all close contacts. The Tri-Counties have been working together to prioritize contact tracing for high-risk cases and exposures.

The County is working hard to make sure people understand how to take care of their health and the people they may have been in close contact to. Public Health is asking the public, if you find out you have COVID-19, don’t wait to hear from a case investigator. Let your close contacts know, so they can quarantine, watch for symptoms and seek testing as needed.

The County has produced an after testing guide that spells out the steps to take after a test, while waiting for results, and if you test positive. It includes information on isolation and quarantine and when and how to tell close contacts and employers.

Copyright 2020 KPTV-KPDX Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved.


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