Are COVID-19 contact tracing logs at restaurants being used?

Coronavirus New Mexico

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – If you’ve eaten at a restaurant lately, you might have written down your name and phone number for contact tracing. But what happens to those lists when you leave? It’s unclear how many of these lists and logs are getting used for contact tracing.

“The state requires it with the Health Department. So we keep track of everyone that comes in to eat; Their phone number and any other information,” Dolores Welk-Jack, manager at Tomasitas in Albuquerque, said. “I know a lot of people in the restaurant business. Places I’ve worked, or friends and family that work at restaurants they haven’t been called either for that. And we’re just all doing what we’re supposed to.”

According to a spokesperson with the New Mexico Department of Health, restaurants are required to keep contact tracing logs in order to offer indoor dining. The spokesperson said restaurants must keep the logs for at least three weeks.

Multiple restaurants say they have never received a call from the state asking for those lists. Tomasitas said they have reported a couple of positive cases to the state but were never asked to provide the lists with customers who may have been exposed.

“But it surprises me. We’ve had a couple in-house cases that we report immediately and they haven’t asked for that information either,” Welk-Jack said. “But we do comply…we’re ready.” Although if ever asked for the contact tracing logs, it’s unclear how helpful they will be. Restaurants said customers don’t love writing down their personal information.

“They do put fake names and numbers and you can tell they’re fake names and numbers. I hope it would be helpful to some but it’s hard to say. If we hear about a case whether it’s in-house or customer, no one’s ever called us,” Welk-Jack said. “If the public could kind of bare with us…I know it’s hard to put down your personal information but it is required right now.”

KRQE News 13 talked to a contact tracer off camera who said they do ask people if they’ve visited a restaurant during their contact tracing investigations but said that data is sent to the state’s epidemiology division and the contact tracer does not contact the restaurant directly.

“Restaurants are free to contact our agency with any questions, but yes, businesses do at times get contacted by our contact tracers within the Epidemiology and Response Division,” a spokesperson with NMDOH said in an email but didn’t give additional details. It said if a restaurant does not keep contact tracing logs, it could be prohibited from indoor dining.

The state faced challenges with contact tracing in the fall as COVID-19 cases started to rise in the state. Now, NMDOH said there is no shortage of contact tracers, more people are answering the calls from contact tracers, and the process is going ‘smoothly.’

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