Coronavirus impact: Contra Costa County follows up on COVID-19 patients with contact tracing

MARTINEZ, Calif. (KGO) -- Contra Costa County is not only rolling out a new mandatory mask wearing policy amid the novel coronavirus pandemic. But they are ramping up their contact tracing that is following up on those who test positive for COVID-19.

As of Friday, there have been more than 648 COVID-19 cases in Contra Costa County and the health department is tracing contacts for every single one.

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Normally, there are 25 staff members doing contact tracing for hundreds of communicable diseases like measles. Now they've ramped up to 85 staff dedicated entirely to tracing COVID-19.

Digital tracing may be useful to know where a COVID-19 positive person went. But contact tracing is of critical importance because it is about making old-fashioned phone calls and talking with someone about how intimate their contact was with others.

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"If they happen to go to a grocery store and didn't have a close conversation with someone else, maybe the risk is fairly low and there's not a lot to do with contact tracing," said Contra Costa Public Health Director Daniel Peddycord said. "If on the other hand, they say I met my neighbor out front and we had a 20 minute conversation and we hugged, we'd say that's a contact we've got to follow up with them," he said.

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Sometimes a COVID-19 case leads to one phone call. Other times, it could be 100 calls. One fact doesn't need sleuthing.

The vast majority of cases are transmitted inside the home so roommates and family members are the first to be contacted. Training a new army of detectives is imperative with one John Hopkins study predicting the US needs 100,000 contact tracers on the job.

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