Contact tracing shows improvement; fully vaccinated not told to quarantine

MADISON, Wis. – An ever-changing number that plays a role in allowing Dane County to loosen restrictions is trending in the right direction.

Public Health Madison & Dane County tracks what percent of COVID-19 positive cases are contacted by public health within 48 hours of the test being collected. That started at a high of 89.4% in late May, before ranging between about 42% and 83% through the beginning of September. It then began a steady drop, falling to its lowest point at 15% in November.

PHMDC Contact Tracer Anne Morgan Giroux said that number is now back up to 77% — rising above 70% last week for the first time since early September.

“That’s really, really good. It’s an improvement,” Morgan Giroux said. “That’s always been one of our goals and metrics to open up more: get ahold of people as fast as we can.”

Daily positive cases are much lower than they were when they spiked in the fall in the state. The average number of daily cases over the last two weeks is 95 in Dane County, down from more than 400 at times in November.

🆕 Data Snapshot! Dane County’s 14-day average number of cases is 95 per day, down from 113 last snapshot. A large…

Posted by Public Health Madison & Dane County on Friday, February 19, 2021

“The process is still the same as it was when we were super busy,” Morgan Giroux said. “Maybe now we can take more time and breathe a bit.”

That contact tracing process involves an interview in which tracers give quarantine guidance and try to determine where the person who tested positive may have gotten the virus and where it could go next.

“Our job is to get ahold of people as fast as we can,” Morgan Giroux said. “The faster we do that, the less cases spread and numbers go down.”

They ask about symptoms and close contacts.

“A case could spin off to ten, twenty contacts,” Morgan Giroux said. “It can have legs.”

The vaccination rollout hasn’t changed her job much either, except for the fact that those who are fully vaccinated aren’t instructed to quarantine if it’s been at least 14 days since their second shot. That extends for a period of 90 days past the final dose according to CDC guidance.

“What a relief if you’re exposed and now vaccinated that you don’t have to quarantine,” Morgan Giroux said.

As vaccinations continue, Jefferson County health officials are still stressing the importance contact tracing and testing.

“There’s still many, many individuals who are at high risk from falling prey to severe illness from COVID-19,” said Samroz Jakvani, an epidemiologist for the Jefferson County Health Department. “It’s really important for us to continue to mitigate that spread and make sure transmission isn’t happening as much as we can.”

At certain points in the pandemic, the Jefferson County Health Department wasn’t able to keep up with contact tracing because cases were so high.

“Contact tracing teams weren’t able to effectively reach every single contact of a positively confirmed individual,” Jakvani said. “At some points we did have to ask folks to let their own contacts know.”

He said there were ways to do so anonymously, and the department was always able to reach everyone with a confirmed positive test.

Since then, Jakvani said cases and testing have slowed down significantly, and they’re able contact COVID-19 positive individuals within about a day, as well as their close contacts in the coming days.

Jakvani imagines contact tracing will continue for a while. In the meantime, he and Morgan Giroux stress the importance of keeping up with public health guidelines like mask-wearing and social-distancing.

“We see the light at the end of the tunnel, but we could be in here a really long time if we don’t continue to do public health guidance,” Morgan Giroux said.