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'We are not giving up on contact tracing': What these changes mean

Posted at 7:52 PM, Jan 07, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-07 19:52:04-05

INDIANAPOLIS — There are new changes to contact tracing in Indiana when it comes to who will be contacted and how.

On Wednesday, State Health Commissioner Dr. Kristina Box announced the discontinuation of outbound calls to non-household close contacts of those infected with COVID-19.

“We’ve reviewed our contact tracing data and determined about 60% of our non-household close contacts fail to respond to our repeated calls, texts or other outreach,” Box said.

These individuals will still get a text message, but Box said the move is to help support the vaccine rollout effort.

“These changes should not significantly impact our contact tracing,” Box said. "Let me be clear, we are not giving up on contact tracing."

WRTV asked the Director of Undergraduate of Epidemiology Program at IUPUI Fairbanks School of Public Health, “What do these changes mean for the average Hoosier?”

Shandy Dearth said, “What I’ve been telling people is that this point our transmission is so high you should assume anytime you go out in public, anytime you leave your house, you’re potentially exposed to COVID-19.”

Shandy Dearth with IUPUI said as the pandemic evolved, so has tackling contact tracing.

“So, you use contact tracing to control the cases, control the spread, but what we’ve seen is we’ve also been a conduit between social services and the community,” Dearth said.

Since mid-summer, IUPUI has worked hand-in-hand with Marion County and the City of Indianapolis. $10.3 million from the city was granted to the university’s Fairbanks School of Public Health to aide with the efforts. Dearth heads the project.

The grant was used to hire, train, and manage 300 contact tracers. Currently, there are around 160 in the program. Dearth said the new changes does not necessarily put strain on the local health department.

“We have shifted gears a little bit more so we have added more people in our call center and we’ve added an additional supervisor,” Dearth said.

The initial grant ended on Dec. 31, but the program is still continuing. Dearth said she has been told the city and county health department are looking for additional funding.

A city spokesperson told WRTV it is committed to finding funding to continue the program.

As for the Marion County Public Health Department, a spokesperson added in an email the program has been “a tremendous asset” in helping with contact tracing.

Dearth expects contact tracing efforts will be needed until the summer.

The latest stimulus bill does include funding towards contact tracing efforts.