Wake County contact tracers having trouble reaching people who test positive for COVID-19

Wake County News

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN)– Nurses and physicians working around the clock to slow the spread of COVID-19 say they need help from infected patients.

Contact tracers are having trouble reaching patients who’ve tested positive for COVID-19, or getting information about who they’ve come in contact with, according to Wake County officials.

“We have been dealing with COVID-19 for a long time.  We don’t like it when you’re sick.  We don’t want to continue to have to do that.  The best way we can do that is get as much information as we can so we can let others know,” said Wake County’s head of contact tracing, Deirdre Smith.

As a registered nurse, Smith says she was called in at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic to help identify people who became infected, and who they might have exposed.

Smith says it’s been a team effort across disciplines to adapt to changing CDC protocol while learning new things about COVID-19 each day.

“It’s a virus that has no respect of person.  It’s a virus that, if it has the ability to infect you, it will,” she said.

When a positive test result is reported to Wake County’s health department, Smith says first an analyst examines the lab result data before passing it on to an investigator.

The investigator then calls the patient to learn information, but also share resources.

Smith says often the person on the other end of the phone is very sick, or emotional.

“There are some that are really angry. ‘I did everything. I did everything I was supposed to do and I went to work,'” she said.

While speaking with the patient, contact tracers try to develop epilinks. According to Smith, they come up with a timeline of close contacts within the 48 hours prior to the patient testing positive or showing symptoms.

“Sometimes people don’t want to share that information, but we do tell them we don’t call and say ‘hey you were exposed.  She exposed you and she told us,'” said Smith.

According to officials from August 1 through October 15, Wake County monitored 14,983 total cases.

Contact tracers were never able to reach 1,501 (10 percent) of those people, and 307 (2 percent) people refused to participate. While another 520 people (3 percent) completed part of the process, but then opted out. 

“Although that number may be small, it only takes one person to be infectious to a lot of people who then would infect other people,” said Smith.

Smith says contact tracers aren’t trying to place blame,  but rather stop COVID-19 from spreading and provide resources to those who are sick.

“We have the same goal.  We want this virus to get under control,” she said.

She says the best way to fight the virus is wearing a mask, practicing social distancing, and frequent hand washing.

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