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Contact tracers can't keep up with surge in COVID-19 positive cases

With the surge in COVID-19 cases, health department workers who contact people once they are positive for COVID-19 say they are overwhelmed with the amount of cases.

CHESAPEAKE, Va. — As the percent positivity rate in many cities continues to climb, health workers are trying to figure out who might have been exposed to COVID-19. With cases skyrocketing, it's getting harder for contact tracers to keep up.

“We’re not all able to keep up. None of us are,” explained Chesapeake Health Department’s Epidemiologist Lisa Engle.

13News Now reached out to health leaders in several Hampton Roads cities. Officials in Norfolk, Virginia Beach, and Chesapeake all said they are overwhelmed with cases.

Engle said, “We are thousands in the hole, but I’m thinking we are doing about 200-300 a day, that they can reach. About 200, I would average.”

Because of the increased demand and a 39% percent positivity rate in Chesapeake, a group of 20 or so contact tracers is trying to call as many people as they possibly can. Engle said some of the team members are getting burnt out.

“We’ve shortened off the questions in what we ask and only are telling them to reach out to their contacts," said Engle. "We actually are trying to prioritize who we are dealing with as far as who is positive.”

Engle said Chesapeake contact tracers are focusing on children and staff in schools, long-term care facilities, and outbreaks.

She explained, “Honestly the long-term care, most of them have gotten boosters... so we are seeing staff, we are seeing them being short-staffed and that. But we are not seeing a drastic [number of] residents sick and going to the hospital.”

In Virginia Beach, the Department of Public Health Director, Dr. Caitlin Pedati said her staff is doing their best to keep up with the demand. The city’s positivity rate on Thursday is 39.9%.

“Just like healthcare providers or anyone else, right? Public health feels that impact,” she explained.

Dr. Pedati said that like Chesapeake, Virginia Beach is focusing on outbreaks, schools, and people at high risk. She said besides that, they are only able to trace about 10% of the remaining cases.

“That does mean encouraging people who are sick to please stay home, and you can also notify your contacts to let them know that you’ve been sick to help encourage them to stay home,” she said.

Dr. Pedati said it’s one big way to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Health leaders are still stressing the importance of COVID-19 vaccines and booster shots. They say it’s never too late to get your first shot.

For more information on the COVID-19 pandemic, click here.