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California has too many COVID-19 cases to trace each new infection, Newsom administration says

California has too many COVID-19 cases to trace each new infection, Newsom administration says

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Newsom hopes California schools won't be delayed by virus

Gov. Gavin Newsom at a news conference in May. Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, Pool, File)

California has too many COVID-19 cases to realistically investigate and trace each new infection, Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly said Tuesday.

“At the level of transmission we’re seeing across the state, even a very very robust contact tracing team in every single county will have a hard time reaching out to every case,” Ghaly said. “No one has anticipated building a program to contact trace the level of cases we’re seeing here.”

The state has trained about 3,600 state workers to help counties with their contact tracing programs, which aim to reach every infected person and their contacts and convince them to quarantine. But the California Department of Public Health said nearly two thirds of those state workers had not yet been assigned to do that work as of last week.

On Tuesday, Ghaly cited bureaucratic hurdles at the county level, including issues related to onboarding the state-trained tracers.

“Despite us having deploy-able staff at the state level, it takes time for a county to be able to assimilate them into their program,” Ghaly said.

The state will continue to work with counties to deploy more contact tracers until the state runs out of staff or local communities no longer need additional staff, Ghaly said. He also noted the state is training more disease investigators, the workers who initiate a case investigation to determine which contacts need to be contacted by tracers.

In the meantime, counties continue to report that their staffs are strained.

“That’s part of the reason why we have used our dimmer switch,” Ghaly said.

We may not know whether the recent closures will cause COVID-19 rates to fall for another five weeks, Ghaly said. The state is closely watching coronavirus data, including hospitalization rates, and could mandate further closures if those rates go up significantly, he said.

Some counties report that they are not able to investigate every new infection, and Ghaly praised their decisions to instead focus on cases related to essential workplaces like large factories that have a higher potential for large outbreaks.

He also said it could be helpful for Califonians who are infected to call their own contacts and ask them to quarantine, essentially asking coronavirus patients to act as their own contact tracers.

Yuba and Sutter counties now have a combined 12 contact tracers and eight case investigators working on any given day trying to track down outbreaks and spreads, said Yuba County spokeswoman Rachel Rosenbaum.

The two counties have not requested state contact tracers at this point, because they believe they can continue to hire and train local county employees and residents who would “know Yuba-Sutter best,” Rosenbaum said.

But the two counties are still working through a backlog of cases stemming from a surge that cropped up about 10 days ago, Rosenbaum said. The caseload has gotten increasingly heavy, Rosenbaum said, forcing the two counties now to prioritize “higher-risk cases” first.

“We did fall behind, and right now they’re working to catch up,” Rosenbaum said.

Solano County has trained about 80 people to be contact tracers, public health administrator Jayleen Richards said, but in the last few weeks officials have realized it’s not enough.

“We’re seeing about 100 positive cases per day, and it’s mostly due to people getting together for social gatherings,” Richards said.

The county has reduced its contact-tracing backlog of 700 cases from last week down to 300 cases this week and is working to hire additional tracers. In the meantime, they submitted a request for 15-20 contact tracers to the state on Monday, Richards said.

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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