I-TEAM: System used to trace COVID-19 cases collapsing as virus continues to spread in Ohio

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CLEVELAND (WJW) — The FOX 8 I-Team has found COVID-19 spreading so quickly, the system to trace cases is breaking down.

Disease detectives throughout Northeast Ohio can no longer keep up with tracing COVID-19 cases.

The I-Team found the Cuyahoga County Health Department just sent an email to a man who’d tested positive. Called him, too. Yet, by the time the agency contacted him, he’d already recovered and gone back to work.

He told the I-Team, “I had already  returned to work. It didn’t make a whole lot of sense. I know they’re backed up. But it was, it was odd.”

So, we turned to the Cuyahoga County Health Commissioner. Terry Allan admitted, “There’s no question. There’s a lag.”

He told us, so many people are testing positive now, labs are falling behind in notifying health agencies. And, when that happens, the health department falls behind in sending out official notices about isolation orders to patients.

And, until lately, health departments have also tried to call the closest contacts of people testing positive. Warning others. Looking for clues about how COVID may be spreading. But, now, health departments have no way to keep up with that as the number of cases has skyrocketed.

Terry Allan said, “Just in Cuyahoga County, you’re talking about 1,200 to 1,800 people every day that would need to be contacted.”

The Cuyahoga County Health Department now has started to limit follow-up calls to cases involving people most at risk or most likely to spread COVID.

“So, we’re looking at where we are getting cases that we can act upon and make a difference to prevent further community transmission,” Allan added.

Lake County Commissioner Ron Graham also spoke of what he calls an “unprecedented level of outbreak.”

The Lake County Health Department is asking many people testing positive to alert their closest contacts themselves.

“One of their best friends, somebody came in from out of town, Grandma came over, they had a large party,” Graham said.

Other area health departments are facing the same struggle. In fact, health departments have brought in more people to do what’s called contact tracing, but that hasn’t solved the problem.

So, if you get a call even after you’ve recovered. Or, if you get no call at all. Remember, disease detectives can’t keep up with the growing number of cases.

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