'Cannot keep up:' Contact tracing suffers amid COVID-19 surge

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, contact tracers have played a significant role in slowing the spread of the virus.

They are on the front lines, of the state's pandemic response. And across Wisconsin, they are under stress as the virus surges.

"We are so grateful for our contact tracers here," said Zachary Metrou with Sheboygan County Health and Human Services. "They have long days of just reaching out to people and making contacts."

Metrou said contact tracing is one of the most critical jobs in helping slow the spread of COVID-19. With cases surging, that strategy is starting to struggle.

"It's really important. It's one of our best strategies that we have to stop it," Metrou said. "With the amount of cases that we are receiving, we are not able to do the full investigation like we would and really dive deep into what's going on."

The stress to keep up as cases skyrocket is being felt in health departments statewide.

"In my department, I’ve hired an additional 24 staff to part-time disease investigation and contact tracing and we just, quite frankly, cannot keep up," said Greenfield Health Director Darren Rausch. 

Rausch said cases are overwhelming the system.

"Our prioritization has largely focused on our more vulnerable populations," Rausch said.

As contact tracers work to catch up, health leaders encourage people who have tested positive for COVID-19 to reach out to potential contacts on their own.

"We really highly encourage that people take that upon themselves at this time," said Metrou.

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Health departments say that another challenge when it comes to effective contact tracing is that people are not answering when tracers call.

Statewide, leaders are hoping that everyone starts to do their part.

"Wear a mask, stay at home as much as possible, limit your gatherings to just your household members," Metrou said.

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The DHS also reported that there are 17 COVID-19 patients at the alternate care facility at Wisconsin State Fair Park.

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Continued isolation is also a major concern as many seniors struggle with not being able to visit with loved ones.