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Missoula contact tracing overwhelmed by surge in COVID-19 cases

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Posted at 9:26 PM, Nov 30, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-01 12:27:32-05

At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, coronavirus testing in Missoula was limited to those on the frontlines or those with underlying health conditions, but at this point, testing capabilities have become much less of a concern.

“While we don't have the capacity to be able to test people who are not having symptoms, we are able to test anyone who is having symptoms,” said Incident Commander Cindy Farr.

The real issue, however, lies in the process leading up to the testing. In other words, Missoula contact tracers are working nonstop.

“Right now, we've got over 1,000 active cases, and we've got an average of five close contacts per active case,” said Farr. “That's 5,000 people that we have to call, and so if you think about that on a daily basis, if we're getting 100 new cases in a day, that's 500 close contacts that have to get called in addition to the 100 people who tested positive.”

Contact tracers have become so overwhelmed by the volume of close contacts that they’re reworking their process and integrating a tool called Sara Alert.

“What this system does for us, because it was created specifically for COVID-19, is that it automatically collects the data and tells us who was a contact to which cases, so it's a faster system to get through contact tracing.”

Sara Alert isn’t the only change. Farr said her team will no longer try to contact exposed individuals more than once.

“We really have to just make that one phone call. We will leave you a message, and if you get a message from us we really need you to call us back. We can't be making phone call after phone call to each and every individual, so really you just need to check your voicemail, read your text messages, and give us a call back."

If you suspect that you’re a close contact to a positive case, the Health Department recommends you take a look at the frequently asked questions on https://www.missoulainfo.com/ so you’re prepared when you do receive that call from the contact tracers.