States fight to contain Covid spikes without enough workers to track outbreaks

Critics say the failure stems from a lack of direction from the Trump administration, which left reopening decisions to states and released guidance on follow-up contacts weeks after state efforts began. That leaves considerable state-to-state disparities in readiness.

“President Trump’s refusal to focus on evidence and contact tracking and the general absence of any leadership led to disastrous failures in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, in a statement to POLITICO.

Democratic lawmakers are pressing the Trump administration to quickly distribute $ 8 billion approved by Congress weeks ago to strengthen contact-finding programs. While the administration has already released $ 11 billion for state testing and tracking, Democrats say a longer delay in the remaining funds has left states inadequately prepared to face new spikes in infections.

The front-line reports confirm this.

Jennifer Kertanis, director of the Farmington Valley Health District in Canton, Connecticut, told POLITICO that her department only received $ 40,000 in federal aid and was told she would have to do it until next March.

“We have already spent all that money on equipment to allow staff to work safely from home and overtime,” he said. “We have not had the money to hire anyone. We have been training existing staff we have had and shuffling tasks. We have been using pencil and paper and Excel spreadsheets because we have never had the resources to invest. “

Last week, legislators in the black, Hispanic and Asian caucuses of the American Pacific criticized Redfield for the lack of federal leadership in tracking contacts. He said the CDC is currently reviewing plans developed by the states. But several lawmakers pointed out that the states were already using these plans and that the agency’s attendance is too little, too late.

Representative Judy Chu (Democrat of California) told POLITICO that she found the information “really troubling.”

“Do they really let states have a contact tracking plan? Who will enforce a contact tracking plan? she said. “As we know, states vary greatly in terms of whether they take COVID-19 seriously.”

The CDC did not respond to multiple requests for comment and did not say when the agency will provide feedback on the states’ plans.

Despite continued challenges with funding, logistics, and federal support, some states have developed successful programs.

Hawaii, which is now only seeing a handful of new infections, has increased its contact tracking staff in the past month from around 80 to more than 300, and more than 1,400 have signed up for training if needed.

Governor David Ige told POLITICO that the state, learning from previous outbreaks, including SARS, has been able to track down all the positive cases so far, and that the vast majority of people have been willing to share information about their contacts.

“People don’t want to make their friends and neighbors sick,” he said.

Oregon also has a strong program that currently contacts more than 90 percent of new infections within 24 hours.

But elsewhere, officials are still crafting their tracking programs months after orders to stay home are lifted, and new employees trained as the spikes threaten to overwhelm local health systems. Even those states that have hired hundreds or thousands of people have struggled to find new infections quickly and get useful information.

In New York City, which opened restaurants on Monday, contact trackers last week received phone numbers of 85 percent of newly infected people, but less than half of those provided information on their recent contacts.

New Jersey, one of the hardest hit states, has brought almost no new contact trackers since the pandemic began. The state has approximately 900 and needs 2,500 to 4,000, Democratic Governor Phil Murphy said Wednesday. The state’s digital platform for tracking the program only runs in two counties, so state data on the program’s success so far is not yet available.

Houston, the last epicenter, is still working to recruit and train 150 contact trackers by July 1.