Oct 13, 2021 - COVID

Florida contact tracers aren't tracing

Illustration of a crowd of people with a glowing line identifying positive cases of coronavirus 

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Florida is spending tens of millions of dollars on contact tracing, but state officials can't say if the program is actually working, according to a new Tampa Bay Times report.

What's happening: The state health department isn't keeping track of calls made by contact tracers — who are already only doing a portion of the job as it's described in CDC guidelines.

  • The CDC says contact tracers are supposed to call people who have tested positive, give them their test results, ask who they've come in contact with, then reach out to warn those people.
  • But Times reporter Anastasia Dawson found many Florida tracers are telling infected people to reach out to their contacts themselves.

The problem: That puts contact tracing up to the discretion of people who may not want to tell others they have COVID and potentially spread it.

  • Plus, federal civil rights attorneys advise callers to not identify patients — which makes that impossible if patients have to call other potential patients.

What they're saying: Gov. DeSantis has said contact tracing doesn't work. But a scientist at the University of Florida's Emerging Pathogens Institute says it could work if the state had a strategy for rolling out its testing and vaccination procedures.

  • "It's like showing up to a house on fire with a squirt gun and saying water doesn't put out fires," Thomas Hladish told the Times. "You didn't do it right in the first place."

Go deeper: Dawson's full report is worthy of your time.


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