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Ignored calls cause challenges for Douglas County contact tracers

Published: Oct. 15, 2020 at 5:27 PM CDT
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - When clusters pop up, like the one we are seeing in Gretna, experts say it’s important to act and stop the virus from spreading.

That’s why contact tracers are working tirelessly to find out who may have been exposed.

“We are trying to pursue societal good and minimize the hospitalizations, the ventilators, the deaths,” says Dr. Thomas Safranek, Nebraska Dept. of Health and Human Services.

In order to do just that, contact tracers spend hours on the phone each day trying to reach those who have tested positive for COVID-19.

That can be challenging.

About 20% of those with a positive test, don’t answer.

Getting someone to answer is critical.

“The problem is we have a serious public health threat, a once in a hundred years health threat. None of us are used to this but it is a new problem that results in, you might say, an intervention in people’s lives and a phone call from a stranger to discuss a health issue,” says Safranek.

Experts say they need people to answer those calls so they can pinpoint the starting point for the infection.

Right now contact tracers are noticing two major trends both locally and statewide as cases surge.

About half with the virus say they know where they caught it.

That means those cases can be traced back to clusters.

“Some people are just not using good sense. So, they are having big gatherings, big groups of people coming together and this is just a recipe for further transmission,” says Dr. Mark Rupp, Chief of Infectious Disease at UNMC.

The remainder of people infected say they have no clue where they came in contact with the virus, which means the virus is widespread in our communities.

“There are so many cases that the risk is anywhere,” says Dr. Anne O’Keefe, Epidemiologist.

Experts say they keep all your information private but it’s vital in the fight against COVID-19 to help them find out where you may have been exposed.

“It’s the kind of thing you’d do if you really care about our society, our culture, making this a good and a safe place to live as we get through this,” says Safranek.

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