WESTFIELD, NJ — People with COVID-19 can catch the virus and not show symptoms for up to two weeks, meaning that they may not yet know if they caught it at a New Year’s gathering, health officials said.

Westfield Regional Health Officer Megan Avallone told NJ Spotlight News that many people are unaware of coronavirus’ two-week incubation period and so may not know they have been exposed.

Further complicating the situation, Avallone said, is contract tracers’ difficulty in both reaching and gaining the cooperation of people who have tested positive for the virus. Approximately half of those people her department attempts to reach are not cooperative, she said.

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“It’s really difficult for public health when we don’t have the information we need to really help people — let them know that they’ve been exposed,” Avallone told the website. “A lot of times there is no return call, and a lot of times, it’s difficult to get information.”

Video Courtesy of NJ Spotlight News

In Westfield — one of the eight municipalities in the regional health department’s service area — the health department was unable to reach 71 of the 333 people it learned had contracted the virus in December, health department statistics show. Of those people that did get the message, three refused to be interviewed in that month, officials said.

It brings the rate of people not cooperating with contact tracers in Westfield to 22.2% for December. That’s better than the approximately 50% lack of cooperation across the regional health department’s territory, according to Avallone. It’s also significantly better than the statewide level of cooperation, Gov. Phil Murphy has repeatedly lamented.

Murphy last month reported that 74 % of people were not cooperating with contact tracers, whose role is to curtail the virus' spread by notifying those people potentially exposed.

“It’s completely unacceptable,” he said.

At his COVID-19 briefing, Murphy opined on the political reasons people may not cooperate and said he hoped that the state’s reporting of COVID-19 deaths might sway more cooperation.

Responding to a TAPinto story, people on a Facebook forum in Westfield, however, posited other reasons the rate of cooperation may be down.

“We’re all spammed all day by telemarketers and don’t answer calls we don’t recognize, because some don’t receive calls (myself included), because some fear reprisals given the blame culture, etc?” one woman said.

Several said they’re more likely to answer text messages, while others reported that family members had tested positive but not heard from a contact tracer.

Not everyone’s experience reported on the thread was negative, however.

“I got a call from a contact tracer. The caller ID said ‘town of summit’ so it was clear who it was. The woman was very professional,” one woman wrote. “We were on the phone for 10 minutes and I said I hope people are being nice. She said I was one of the few cooperative calls of the day (it was late afternoon). I thanked her for her work. She said I wouldn’t believe how rude people were when she introduced herself.”