State has had some success with contact tracing, Department of Health says; but challenges, as well

Louisiana News

Dr. Alex Billioux, assistant secretary for the Office of Public Health
David Gray | The News

BATON ROUGE, La. (The Livingston Parish News) – According to Dr. Alex Billioux, assistant Secretary for the Louisiana Department of Health, contact tracing plays a major role in curbing the spread of the novel coronavirus.

But reactions from residents, specifically on social media, showed skepticism – or outright denial in participating in the program, should they be called. According to their posts and comments, the program seemed ‘intrusive’ and ‘violated privacy law.’

Others, however, said they would participate, if called, as a way to stay ahead of the novel coronavirus.

While Billioux did not have the full number of contacts since the program first expanded to 250 tracers at the beginning of Phase 1, in May, he did say specifically 219 calls have been given ‘resource assistance.’ Simply put, those individuals would receive state help because they could not afford to ‘stay at home’ for the two week period suggested by the state.

That included food, rent, and utility assistance.

However, Billioux added that the state is still experiencing problems with the program. 250 tracers was not enough to keep up with the daily spread of the coronavirus – which has reached about 6,000 total new cases since the beginning of Phase 1. Billioux said that the program had jumped to 630 tracers, but that many of them still had not been trained – a program which is required before they make their first call.

The training program focuses on privacy and working with someone who’s on the other end of the line, especially if they’re unwilling to participate.

That’s been the second problem, Billioux said, with the program. Plenty of people don’t pick up, he explained, even when the number should say “Louisiana Department of Health.” The specific number was announced at the beginning of the program on May 15, which is 877-766-2130.

Billioux said others just don’t want to participate, even after picking up the phone.

Finally, getting the appropriate information can be a challenge, but Billioux said that’s not necessarily the patient’s fault. They don’t know they have or had coronavirus, he said, so asking them to keep track of who they’ve been around, or seen at work, is difficult.

Still, LDH is looking to surge that capacity up to the 630 total tracers to try and keep track of statewide coronavirus increases. As of now, Billioux said that the department’s ability to contact trace is ‘inadequate’ for moving forward into new phases.

Contract tracing is one of the three testing methods for the gated movement into new phases of economic reopening. The other two are basic coronavirus testing, wherein Louisiana reached the ‘over 200,000 tests’ goal for May, and serology testing, which searches for antibodies – a necessary piece of the vaccine puzzle.

“Any one of us can receive a call from a contact tracer,” Gov. John Bel Edwards explained in May, “It is important to pick up the call and participate.”

Edwards reminded Louisiana citizens that working with a contact tracer is optional.

According to Edwards, tracers will call and inform the recipient that they have been in contact with an individual who has tested positive for COVID-19. Information regarding the individual who originally possessed the virus, including their name, will not be given. The tracer will ask several questions regarding your whereabouts and movements, and will then end the call.

Edwards explained that it was incumbent upon the people of Louisiana to continue mitigation and hygiene efforts, as well as social distancing. Edwards, a military veteran, said that there was a big rule to follow when claiming or pushing into new territory.

“You never want to fight for, bleed for, the same terrain twice,” the governor explained.

Edwards was alluding to the potential for the state to revert to some old mitigation efforts or having to shut specific businesses down, again, if the analytics called for such a move. Edwards said that certain data points would be considered, including the number of new cases, the geographic area of the spike, the potential cause of the spike, and whether or not people were participating in the increased testing – of all types – in that area.

“We want to move forward, not backward,” Edwards said, “but I am confident that (Louisiana) can do this responsibly.”

By: McHugh David|The News

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