As NH COVID cases increase, state health officials cut back on contact tracing

Published: Nov. 18, 2020 at 10:40 PM EST|Updated: Nov. 20, 2020 at 5:47 AM EST
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CONCORD, N.H. (WCAX) - New Hampshire health officials are cutting back on contact tracing new COVID-19 cases, saying the surge in new cases has meant there are just too many to track.

State officials say they intend to focus on tracing cases in those under the age of 18, over 65, cases connected to outbreaks, racial or minority groups disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, and health care workers.

Officials say only 40% to 50% of the people the state calls for contact tracing answer the phone.

Given the high rate of community transmission, New Hampshire epidemiologist Dr. Benjamin Chan says community mitigation efforts like mask-wearing and social distancing are the best way to slow the spread.

“Contact tracing is part of a containment strategy to stop the spread of COVID-19. But it is one, and only one layer or intervention for helping to prevent the spread of COVID-19. As community transmission increases, it becomes a less effective strategy at identifying and breaking chains of transmission,” he said.

Chan says health care providers will still help educate people who have been put at risk.

The New Hampshire Science and Public Health Task Force, an independent group of doctors and scientists, says the new strategy won’t work and they are asking the governor to reconsider.

“We are begging that the governor rethink his position on contact tracing. We not need to shrink contact tracing in the face of increasing cases, we need to expand it, and we need to expand it quickly,” said task force member and former state epidemiologist Rich DiPentima.

The group is also calling for a mask mandate for all indoor public spaces in New Hampshire, a limit on gatherings, and for people to avoid bars and restaurants for at least 10 days.

It all comes as New Hampshire announced 447 new positive cases of the coronavirus on Wednesday, the second-highest amount since the pandemic began.

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