New Mexico contact tracers face challenges as COVID-19 cases rise

Coronavirus New Mexico

NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – As coronavirus cases rise in every region of the state, the job of contacting and isolating people who test positive, along with all of their contacts is proving challenging. For one, not everyone is answering the phone.

Thousands of people are getting tested in New Mexico each day for COVID-19. When someone tests positive, the state first assigns a ‘case investigator’ to contact that person, make sure they’re self-isolating, and have support.

Then a ‘contact tracer‘ works to get a hold of everyone that person came into contact with and could have spread the virus to. “We’re doing a good job, it’s a hard job though because not everybody wants to be called by the government about a test result,” explained Dr. David Scrase, Secretary for the Human Services Department.

Dr. Scrase explained that’s only the beginning. Not everyone is answering their phones right away. Dr. Scrase explained people are generally less likely to answer the phone when they don’t recognize the caller.

According to state health officials, contact tracers in New Mexico are getting a hold of people roughly 81% of the time. Currently, it’s taking roughly 26 hours to contact and isolate the person who tested positive, and roughly 47 hours to quarantine that person’s contacts. The goal is to lower those times.

“It’s not something that we normally think of as part of our day to day life, getting called up and you know, having strangers tell us that we need to stay home for two weeks,” explained Dr. Scrase. “But that’s part of the world we’re in right now, and it’s going to happen to many of us,” he added.

As the state continues to boost the program, for now, New Mexico is reporting a higher success rate with contact tracing than some states. “Massachusetts you mentioned they’re getting a hold of people about 60% of the time, I think New York was 42%, Louisiana, 48%, New Mexico is 81%,” said Dr. Scrase.

Keeping people safe and minimizing spread is the shared goal, as states across the country work to boost their contact tracing programs.

Contact tracers can also run into challenges when it comes to privacy concerns and people not wanting to share personal information with the government. The New Mexico Department of Health says it’s hiring new contact tracers every week.

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