COVID-19 case numbers are down in Wake County but exposures are up

Wake County News

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Case numbers are going down, but the number of people exposed to COVID-19 in Wake County is going up.

When someone tests positive for COVID-19 in Wake County, case investigators reach out to them to find out who they may have exposed.

Contact tracers then call those people to tell them to quarantine and offer resources.

More than 32,000 people in the county received a call last month saying they had been exposed to the virus.

“As we begin to open up more and people are out more, there are more opportunities for exposures,” said Dr. Nicole Mushonga, associate medical director and epidemiology program director for Wake County.

At one point, there were about 50 people working full time as contact tracers in Wake County. There are now about 30.

Another 30 do the initial investigations.

The number of cases they investigate has fluctuated over the past three months, but the number of people exposed has gone up.

In March, 25,580 people were exposed.

In April, 27,473 people were exposed.

In May, 32,103 people were exposed.

“We are seeing those numbers increase as we have more people that are out and as things are open,” said Mushonga.

She said they have found only a small portion of people who have been exposed are fully vaccinated — leading them to quarantine and get tested.

“Testing’s not going away anytime soon, but it’s a good thing. We want to keep everybody safe,” said Ernie Lopez, Radeas lab technician.

The county’s contact tracing team now sets people up with vaccination appointments and gathers data to help track trends.

“Just with everything else with the pandemic, their job roles have evolved over time kind of adding on different pieces as we receive new tools to really combat this pandemic,” said Mushonga.

For the remainder of the year, the county expects to spend more than $13 million on vaccinations, contact tracing, and case investigations.

“We’ve received a lot of attention towards case investigation and contact tracing throughout the pandemic, but this is really a decade-old fix that public health uses,” said Mushonga.

Contact tracing’s been used for smallpox, HIV, STDs and more. Experts said it will be used for COVID as long as it’s in the community.

A lot of the contact tracers are working remotely right now. They face hurdles with people not picking up the phone or responding to their messages.

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