VDH stops contact tracing for every patient as cases are now ‘insurmountable’ | News

By Eric Kolenich/Richmond Times-Dispatch

The Virginia Department of Health will halt contact tracing for every COVID-19 patient, acknowledging that it cannot continue in the face of the astronomical number of cases, but accepting that the practice is no longer effective.

Instead, the health department will refocus on monitoring outbreaks and cases in high-risk settings.

The omicron variant has increased the number of cases. In Virginia, cases peaked two weeks ago at around 18,000 a day – three times the Virginia peak in January 2021. But at the same time, nearly 6 million residents have been vaccinated and the omicron caused a milder infection, reducing the need for contact tracing.

When the pandemic began, health officials scrambled to interview infected residents and locate their close contacts. Since September 2020, health workers have investigated 750,000 cases and notified 400,000 close contacts.

During omicron, however, such investigations became untenable. The VDH interviewed only 7% of infected patients in the first week of January, according to its website. Less than two-thirds of respondents were called in the first 24 hours. Of those infected, staff contacted 35% of their close contacts.

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“Omicron is now the most common variant of COVID-19 and is spreading so rapidly that tracking every case is neither possible nor fruitful,” the department said in a statement Tuesday.

The health department has also responded to 6,500 outbreaks and will continue to monitor the rapid spread of the virus in long-term care facilities, health care facilities and other high-risk settings. It will continue to develop prevention strategies for K-12 schools to keep schools open and safe.

“This response is most effective when a virus spreads very easily and quickly and many infected people show no symptoms,” the department said. “VDH’s current staff are still essential in the fight against COVID-19 and are needed to continue monitoring COVID-19 and ensuring an adequate public health response.”

Cases in Virginia have declined sharply over the past two weeks, following national and international trends. There were 12,000 average cases in the state on Tuesday, still significantly higher than any previous wave.

Hospitalizations appear to have peaked in the state. There were 3,754 people hospitalized with COVID in Virginia on Tuesday, up from 3,875 seven days ago.

In Greene County, 48 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 in January alone. Since the start of the pandemic, 196 citizens of Greene County have been hospitalized with the virus and 49 have died.