CAMDEN, NJ — Say you get a call from a Camden County contact tracer who is aware of your positive coronavirus screening. While providing the names and contact information for household members is easy, it may be harder to admit you recently attended an indoor party or returned from a “hotspot state” whilst failing to self-quarantine.
Nevertheless, the information is critical to nipping the virus in the bud wherever possible, according to officials experiencing uncooperative patients in the county.
“We have been able to conduct full interviews with approximately 80% of individuals who test positive for the disease. However, only 40% of cases are providing additional contacts that may have been exposed, and only 10% are providing contacts outside of their home,” External Affairs Manager for Camden County, Kyle Sullender, told TAPinto Camden.
The county has confirmed roughly 9,052 cases and 549 deaths as of Thursday — meaning upwards of 8,000 people are not providing non-household contacts and over 3,000 are not providing contacts of anyone who may have been exposed.
“The fact only 1 in 10 are providing that contact signals folks are not being very forthcoming with our contact tracers,” Sullender said. “We need that information to prevent friends, relatives, acquaintances from possibly exposing others to the virus.”
Currently, the county health department has a dozen staff members on hand focused on contact tracing - with an additional 21 provided by the New Jersey Department of Health. Another 29 are trained and ready to go if needed.
County officials said that contact tracers, who undergo about a week of training, have made at least one call per confirmed case.
Sullender said whether it’s the stigma of having contracted the virus during a precarious situation or having come in contact with individuals they would rather not reveal, many — in all age groups - are not helping the county be as thorough as it could be.
At no point will the county employee look to reveal the information outside of the affected party, he said.
“Our contact tracing team is never going to persecute or shame someone for their actions, their only goal is to identify whether other people were exposed to the virus and then stop them from spreading it further,” said Freeholder Carmen Rodriguez, liaison to the Health Department.“We know that these can be awkward conversations, but they are absolutely critical to our ability to contain this virus.
During a coronavirus press briefing at the end of July, Gov. Phil Murphy sought to quell fears about the misuse of data - saying confidentiality would be maintained and there will not be an app to track people’s movements.
Contact tracing is, “not a witch hunt to root-out anyone who was drinking underage,” he added. “This is a race against the clock to ensure that everyone who may have been exposed to coronavirus is identified before they infect anyone else.”
According to Murphy, the "straightforward" questions asked by contact tracers are:
Does the exposed individual have a place in their home they can isolate?
Does the exposed individual have a private bathroom at their disposal?
Does the exposed individual have any special needs, particularly linked to access to food for a 14-day period?
Is the exposed individual displaying any COVID-19 symptoms?
Has the individual visited a place where others could have been exposed and who have they come in close contact with?
"Close contact" with someone includes being within six feet for at least 15 minutes. The time frame starts, "from 2 days before illness onset (or, for asymptomatic patients, 2 days prior to positive specimen collection) until the time the patient is isolated," according to the CDC.
Moreover, contact tracers will also provide information on getting tested and how to protect those around you.
Sullender noted that tracers will inquire as to a way to contact anyone you may have exposed, but can keep your identity hidden — simply informing them of their exposure and steps they should be taking to mitigate further spread.