Dallas health officials admit it's becoming difficult to contact trace every new COVID-19 case

Dallas County Public Health Director Dr. Philip Huang admitted to city council members that it is getting difficult to keep up with a critical step to controlling COVID-19, specifically talking about contact tracing.

That is due to the increase in cases.

While Dr. Huang said the county has made an attempt to contact trace every case, he admitted the county did not have data to show if contact tracing has been happening in 24-48 hours, something the city's health czar said is critical to slowing the spread.

“I have no data on contact tracing from the county,” Dr. Kelvin Baggett.

Dr. Baggett told the city’s COVID-19 committee that the city is lacking crucial information from the county.

“Even if we could get how many tested positive, and then identify potential contacts, and how many of those contacts were reached. If they were reached, how many had symptoms,” he added.

Dr. Baggett said that information would reveal where hot spots are, so interventions can be made to slow the spread.

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A city council member also pressed to find out how quickly the county is making contact with people who were unknowingly exposed to the virus.

“Our goal, certainly, would be within 24 hours, or 48 hours,” Dr. Huang said. “But you understand, you’re contacting these people, you don't reach them on the phone the first try, you try the second day, you try the third day, then you try following up with email or snail mail.”

 “I encourage you to put in metrics so you are watching how long it takes to contact everyone,” Dallas City Councilwoman Cara Mendelsohn said.

Dr. Huang said the county is moving to an automated system with Parkland on Monday, and recently received $10 million from Dallas County Commissioners to increase staff by 260 people.

But the system will only be as effective as the responses received, which could be a fundamental shortcoming.

“People don’t want to give information about who was at a particular party,” Huang explained.

One expert said it was too soon to know the impact of protests on the spread of the virus.

Dr. Trish Perl is tracking cell phone data that shows while people are getting out more, cell phone data shows that people are still staying six feet apart.

Dr. Marshal Isaacs, speaking from his experience in the ER, urged council members to regulate masks the way businesses regulate smokers.

“My last shift in the emergency department was Tuesday. I left the hospital at about midnight after spending nine hours in various levels of masking and PPE,” Dr. Isaacs said. “I’m concerned about where we’re going to be in 2-4 weeks if the current trajectory continues.”

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