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VDH refocuses contact tracing methods, investigating large outbreaks primarily

Published: Jan. 26, 2022 at 5:58 PM EST
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AUGUSTA COUNTY, Va. (WHSV) - With high levels of transmission from the omicron variant, the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) is changing the way it contact traces.

Instead of investigating each case of COVID-19 reported to public health agents, staff will spend their time focused on large case outbreaks, vaccination and testing efforts.

“The case investigation and contact tracing strategy was effective during the initial phase of the pandemic, but it’s not really achieving optimal results anymore,” said Jordi Shelton with the Central Shenandoah Health District.

That’s because there’s a large number of asymptomatic and mild cases due to mutations in the virus and widespread vaccination. Additionally, many cases are never reported to public health agencies.

Omicron has a shorter incubation period, and quarantine periods are shorter. The pandemic is different now, so VDH is adjusting, Shelton said.

“Our current staff is needed to continue to track COVID-19 and ensure that we have an adequate public health response, but our staff focus is really going to shift to others areas like interviewing outbreak associated cases, partnering with schools to implement prevention strategies and providing support for vaccination and testing efforts,” said Shelton.

The shift to a broader investigation strategy will allow them to focus on other matters.

“Virginia’s containment strategies may need to be adapted again, so right now this is the best use of our staffing and our efforts to continue to provide an adequate public health response,” said Shelton.

According to a news release, since Sept. 2020, public health staff in Virginia have completed over 750,000 case investigations, notified over 400,000 close contacts and responded to over 6,500 outbreaks.

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