US Authorities Failing to Conduct Contact Tracing, a Cornerstone of Outbreak Response

Transmission electron micrograph of SARS-CoV-2 virus particles, isolated from a patient. Image captured and color-enhanced at the NIAID Integrated Research Facility (IRF) in Fort Detrick, Maryland. Credit: NIAID

If the US forgoes contact tracing in favour of aggressive social-distancing measures alone, the country risks the outbreak worsening, and lockdown measures such as school and business closures dragging on for longer than they would otherwise.

Across the United States, overwhelmed health departments are failing to diagnose people with COVID-19 and do the detective work usually used to contain outbreaks of contagious disease. This involves rapidly identifying the people with whom infected individuals have been in contact, requesting that close contacts quarantine themselves in their homes for two weeks, and testing them as soon as they have symptoms.

“We have not seen an urgent enough escalation in testing, isolation and contact tracing, which is the backbone of the response,” said director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus at a press briefing on 16 March. “We cannot stop this pandemic if we don’t know who is infected,” he said. “You cannot fight a fire blindfolded.”

Lack of rapid diagnostic testing, a shortage of people required to investigate confirmed cases, and lack of clear leadership have significantly slowed the response.

Read the full story by Amy Maxmen at Nature

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