Scott County surrenders all pandemic contact tracing to state health department

Case surge is more than 25 local tracers can handle


An overwhelmed Scott County Health Department today surrendered all pandemic contact tracing going forward to the state health department as cases and deaths in the last month were more than 25 local contact tracers could handle.

County Health Department Director Ed Rivers told Scott County Health Board members meeting noon Thursday that surging caseloads overwhelmed the county’s 19 contact tracers. Even six new hires approved by supervisors last month would be insufficient to keep up, he said.

Scott County is the 63rd of Iowa’s 99 counties to turn contract tracing over to the state. The state health department early on offered to do all – or none – of each county’s contact tracing. Rivers said Polk County gave up tracing in May.

This week, Scott County is among 10 surrendering contact tracing.

Rivers said the state health department has $25 million in CARES funding and issued a request for vendor proposals.

Scott County Supervisors two weeks ago followed the county health board’s request for six new contact tracers to help the 19 employees already dedicated to it. But when daily case counts eclipsed 300, Rivers said it was more than his department could handle.

“We were ready to hire, when suddenly the numbers tripled, or more. We’re suddenly getting 350, or 420-case days. We had interviewed six people and realized we would need three times that many. We weren’t confident in our ability to project resources we may need to adequate administer program moving forward,” Rivers said.

The health board voted unanimously Thursday to support health department’s staff decision implemented last week to shift to state tracing.

Rivers said the local backlog delayed contact tracing so that some of it simply wasn’t timely. “With stacks and stacks of new cases, we had no way to triage. Some no doubt were beyond the infection period. There was no way to triage and get to those cases where our efforts would make the most good.”

County health department deputy director Amy Thoreson said her staff will remain busy following up COVID cases they’re already working, and regular duties. “Certainly the work load has not changed dramatically. It’s just with the constant new cases coming in and building up and building up, that feeling is a little bit lessened. I don’t know it’s creating any less anxiety,” Thoreson said.

Rivers was hopeful the state could handle the work more efficiently.

“We are told their protocol same as ours. They make three attempts to contact. The last I heard, they were three to four days out on interviews. It’s much better than our ability to do it here,” Rivers said.

Since relinquishing tracing, Rivers said the Scott County reported 1,435 new cases.

“That’s why we felt time was of essence. We knew we were going to have hundreds more, and we see more than 1,000 new cases.”

He detected “a big spike in the 18- to 24-age group. In the last week or so, other ages are catching up.”

Rivers told health board members that Gov. Kim Reynolds’ COVID-19 proclamations are rife with, “lot of exceptions and interpretations.”

Rivers was exasperated at the governor’s exception for professional sports.

“There’s a mixed martial art bout in the Davenport RiverCenter this week with room for 688 people expected to attend. We got an interpretation from the governor that since this is a professional sport, it is exempted with no restriction on the number of attendees. So even though the indoor gathering section is limited to 15 by proclamation, they can have their 668 in the RiverCenter."