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Vermont contact tracing and testing ramps up again to meet delta surge

Published: Aug. 19, 2021 at 5:51 PM EDT
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RUTLAND, Vt. (WCAX) - As daily COVID case numbers in Vermont reach levels not seen since early spring -- there were 169 new cases reported Thursday -- contact tracing and testing are also ramping back up again to head off the virus.

When the surge in cases caused by the delta variant hit earlier this month, Vermont health officials say they fell slightly behind in contact tracing. Now, they are bringing more staff members back to the team. “We did get behind a little bit, so there has been some delay in some people in hearing from contact tracers,” said state epidemiologist Patsy Kelso.

To make up for the sudden increase, health workers previously deployed for contact tracing are being called back. And the company hired to outsource contact tracers for Vermont is also adding employees. “It’s quite possible some of them are physically in other states, but the health department is almost entirely working remotely ourselves. So, it doesn’t matter so much where you are,” Kelso said.

Nick Nadeau, director of Waterbury Parks and Recreation, ran into issues with the health department’s contact tracing when one of his summer camps experienced an outbreak. “The health department definitely lacked something. They definitely dropped the ball on this at the start. It took them up to a week to get them to finally contact trace, which is why we ended up having to shut camp down,” he said.

Kelso does not dispute what Nadeau says, but adds the camp was continuously evolving with new cases and contacts. “It was a complex situation and there were people that it might have taken longer than we would have liked to reach them,” Kelso said.

The state is also closely monitoring how long it takes to receive COVID test results from their 26 state sites. The majority are getting them in less than 36 hours.

“Right now, we are seeing a very large uptick in testing,” said Leah Denton with Rutland Regional Medical Center, one of the testing sites. She says about 10 to 30 people a day were tested earlier this summer. Now, the hospital is seeing about 85 to 105 daily tests. That compares to between 200 to 300 daily tests at the height of the pandemic last winter.

Hospital officials also say there has been an increase in people presenting with symptoms that are testing positive for COVID.

Denton says people need to stay vigilant and look for signs, even if they are fully vaccinated. “Please get tested, we can’t take our foot off the pedal,” she said.

Kelso says the state is monitoring those sites for any changes with more people getting tested again. “We adjust things or add hours or days to specific sites if they are routinely near or exceeding their stated capacity,” she said.

Related Story:

Outbreak at Waterbury camp raises concerns on back-to-school protocols

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