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'Our Goal Never Would Be To Give Up': Experts Say Florida Still Has Work To Do On Contact Tracing

From Tallahassee to Miami, officials and experts see different problems in contact tracing, but one expert urged Florida not to give up.
Katie Lepri
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

Contact tracing is a core disease control measure. When someone tests positive, a contact tracer will ask the infected patient for telephone numbers of people who may have been around them. That way, these contacts can isolate, too.

Critics say South Florida has too few tracers. Others say they're not asking enough questions. Regardless, gaps exist and are growing. 

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Gov. Ron DeSantis says one problem with contact tracing is that some infected people aren't helping.

"The younger folks aren't cooperating with contact tracers, and so when they're trying to call, they're just not getting a lot of a lot of support," he said at a press conference in Miami on July 7. 

Dr. Aileen Marty, an infectious disease expert at Florida International University, brought up another problem speaking on  CNN's Anderson Cooper 360.

"Our contact tracing questionnaire doesn't give us the finesse to identify exactly many of the original sources of disease because they're not even part of the questionnaire," she said. 

State Rep. Shevrin Jones of West Park in Broward County has COVID-19. He says a contact tracer called him last week and used that questionnaire, "and her phone dropped and I haven't heard from her since Thursday."

According to state data,  more than 84,300 Florida residents who have COVID-19 have not been contacted.

"I would hope that our goal never would be to give up," said Dr. Candice Chen, a professor of health policy at George Washington University, and part of a team of experts behind  a new model that figures out how many contact tracers a county, state and the U.S. should have. "If you have COVID in your community, that's literally people's lives."

She says Florida should keep going but has some work to do, like, for starters, hire more contact tracers, work on testing so that people get their results sooner, counties should roll back their reopenings and people should continue to wear masks and stand six feet apart from others, at minimum. 

"Once your cases are consistently coming down, and at a manageable rate, your hospitals aren't being overwhelmed," Chen said. "You have good enough testing in your community that that you feel confident that you're that you're capturing the community cases and then, when you look to start to reopen, and then there are cases, the contact tracing can really help you do that targeted quarantining."

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Verónica Zaragovia