Coronavirus surge in North Dakota leaves contact tracing up to residents

The state reported 1,036 new coronavirus cases on Tuesday, a 'pandemic high' in the state

North Dakota health officials are asking residents to conduct their own contact tracing if they have tested positive for COVID-19 as a surge in cases of the novel coronavirus has left contact tracers in the state overwhelmed and strapped for resources. 

There is a backlog in COVID-19 case investigations, according to a post on Twitter from the North Dakota Department of Health (NDDoH) on Monday. 

“Please be advised: NDDoH and local public health units are currently experiencing a backlog of COVID-19 case investigations, causing a delay in calls. If you have tested positive for COVID-19, please isolate and inform any close contacts you've had that they should get tested,” the tweet reads. 

In a news release, the NDDoH said that it added some 400 contact tracers and case investigators over the summer to help “quickly trace and quarantine close contacts, allowing contact tracing to continue long after many other states had to suspend their efforts.” But a “sharp increase” in COVID-19 case in recent weeks “has put increased pressure on contact tracing teams at the state and local level, leading to tracing delays and a backlog of positive cases that have yet to be assigned to a case investigator,” they said. 

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For context, the state reported 1,036 new coronavirus cases on Tuesday, what the Grand Forks Herald reported is a “pandemic high” in North Dakota, adding that the Peace Garden State “has reported by far the most COVID-19 cases and deaths per capita in the nation over the last week.” 

“This temporary situation required an immediate and significant shift in resources to provide results in a timely manner to individuals who test positive to protect their health and slow the spread of COVID-19,” Gov. Doug Burgum said in a statement. 

“This temporary situation required an immediate and significant shift in resources to provide results in a timely manner to individuals who test positive to protect their health and slow the spread of COVID-19,” Gov. Doug Burgum said in a statement. (iStock)

“This temporary situation required an immediate and significant shift in resources to provide results in a timely manner to individuals who test positive to protect their health and slow the spread of COVID-19,” Gov. Doug Burgum said in a statement. (iStock)

Officials noted that it will also take longer for those who have been tested for the novel coronavirus to learn their results. Patients will be notified 72 hours from when the lab confirms their result compared to the past wait time of 24 hours. 

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“In addition, significant community spread of coronavirus and a lack of compliance with close contact investigations have diminished the effectiveness of contact tracing,” health officials noted. 

The state also announced that some 50 soldiers from the North Dakota National Guard will be moved from calling close contacts to informing residents who have tested positive. 

“By refocusing these resources, the backlog of notifications should be eliminated by Thursday, Oct. 22,” they said.

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An automated system for notifying residents who have tested positive is also in the works, per the news release. 

“Speeding up the notification process and conducting thorough case investigations of positive patients will help us to better identify potential clusters and allow patients to more quickly seek treatment and notify other individuals who may have been exposed to the virus,” said Interim State Health Officer Dirk Wilke, in a news release. “It’s critically important to understand that the quarantine recommendations for close contacts haven’t changed.”