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IS CONTACT TRACING WORKING? Mayo director explains continuously changing method

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Downtown Rochester

ROCHESTER, Minn. (KTTC) -- When it comes to fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, every tool comes in handy.

Mayo Clinic's expanded contract tracing system is one such method of preventing the spread here in Olmsted County and across the country.

When contact tracing first began at Mayo Clinic, Dr. Laura Breeher and her staff found themselves overwhelmed in less than a week trying to make calls.

However, a new streamlined way of contact tracing has simplified the process, but it has its difficulties. Often times, the source of the virus is close to home.

"Household exposures often pose the highest risk," Breeher said. "With our household members, we are not wearing masks and we have prolonged, very close contact with spouses, children and others."

While the virus can easily spread in the house, it can also be easily contained.

"Identify a place in the home where an ill individual could isolate themselves away from the family ahead of time," Breeher said. "Develop a plan so food could be delivered to that person and they don't have to come out into the kitchen or common areas if at all possible."

The problem with contact tracing comes when someone attends a mass gathering prior to developing symptoms.

"When an individual who has COVID has been out to a bar or masked gathering in the 48 hours prior to developing symptoms, contact tracing becomes almost impossible," Breeher said. "They don't know the identity of the individuals who had been around them."

Contact tracing is also more effective when combined with testing that provides results in as soon as possible.

"There's definitely been an evolution in that. Early on, when every test had to be sent out to a national lab and it took 5 to 7 days to get results, we had to assume results would be positive and quarantine individuals who had been exposed," said Breeher.

According to Dr. Breeher, the test-trace-isolate strategy has helped slow the spread of COVID-19.

However, there is a concern with healthcare workers contracting the virus outside the workplace.

"Very low transmission within the workplace. The transmission that is occurring is when people are not wearing their masks," Breeher said. "There might be a situation where people are eating lunch together unmasked."

With a spike in cases across the Midwest, the Mayo director and her team say they worry about the holidays overwhelming the healthcare system.
They advise small gatherings or zoom calls to keep your loved ones safe over Thanksgiving, even as un-festive as that may sound.

Alex Tejada

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