Delays in COVID-19 contact tracing are compromising the effectiveness of preventing the spread of the virus in Austin, a new study by UT researchers has found.
The study describes contact tracing as a well-established public health strategy put in place to curb the spread of infectious diseases. Through the contact tracing process, people who have interacted with an infected person are notified so they can be aware and follow recommended procedures, said Darlene Bhavnani, assistant professor in the Dell’s Department of Population Health. Medical School.
Researchers reviewed contact tracing data from UT and the surrounding Austin area. The study found that it took an average of two days to notify people on the UT campus who had been in contact with someone infected with COVID-19, and five days to notify contacts in the wider region. from Austin.
“We found that on campus, these delays … are significantly lower than those in the wider Austin community,” said Xutong Wang, the study’s lead author.
Wang said delays occur at multiple levels in the contact tracing process, and so the study split data on delays into three segments: testing, turnaround time for results, and contact tracing. . The initial delays in testing are due to people waiting to get tested days after they start showing symptoms. The delays are also due to the variable time it took for laboratories to process COVID-19 test results.
As a result, delays in contact tracing mean those who were exposed to an infected person weren’t notified until days after their interaction.
“What I think makes more sense to put in more effort is to shorten the test turnaround time,” Wang said. “These PCR tests are really fast and accurate…but we see at least a day, two days or even two weeks if it’s too busy.”
Bhavnani also said reducing test turnaround time is key to shortening turnaround times.
“Increasing lab capacity as well as developing rapid tests – making them available and accessible to people if needed – will really improve the timeline in which we approach this test, trace and isolate strategy,” said said Bhavnani.
When done effectively, contact tracing is a viable tool not only to prevent the spread of COVID-19, but also to combat new viral threats such as monkeypox, Bhavnani said.
“What we need to do is make sure again that we are investing in this infrastructure now, so that it is available and the processes are well understood and the capacity is available, if we were to leverage it to respond. to new pandemics,” Bhavnani said. . “Although (the study) is based on 2020 data, we can really learn lessons about how to strengthen contact tracing now and in the future.”