You know Covid-19 is out of control when health officials are so overwhelmed, they can’t notify close contacts who may be infected.
That’s what’s happening in North Dakota, one of 31 states suffering more new Covid-19 cases this past week compared to the previous week.
Contact tracing is crucial to finding possible carriers of coronavirus, so they can quarantine and break the chain of infection.
But a “sharp increase” in new cases has engulfed contact tracers, leading to delays and “a backlog of positive cases that have yet to be assigned to a case investigator,” the North Dakota Department of Health said this week.
“Close contacts will no longer be contacted by public health officials; instead, positive individuals will be instructed to self-notify their close contacts and direct them to the NDDoH website, where landing pages will be created … explaining the recommended and required actions for both positive patients and close contacts.”
The North Dakota National Guard has shifted 50 soldiers from contacting close contacts to notifying people who have tested positive, the state health department said.
‘No safe period of time’ to be maskless with someone outside your bubble
Nationwide, all Americans need to double down on safety measures now that the definition of “close contacts” has expanded.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention just broadened “close contacts” to include anyone you may have had brief contact with, within 6 feet, during a combined 15 minutes over the course of a day. (Previously, the CDC defined close contacts as anyone you had close encounters with for at least 15 minutes straight.)
“It reiterates the importance of everybody wearing a mask,” said Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health.
Jha and other health experts say there’s nothing magical about 15 minutes, and that the public shouldn’t assume spending less time with people without masks is safe.
“There is no safe period of time to be with somebody who’s not part of your bubble if both of you are not wearing masks,” he said.
“It’s really critical that people wear masks if you’re going to be with somebody for any period of time, even if it’s less than 15 minutes.”
The new CDC guidance came after researchers discovered even brief exposures (less than 15 minutes each) with an infected person nearby can silently spread coronavirus.
“A mask can protect other people from the virus-containing particles exhaled by someone who has COVID-19. As many as half of all people who have COVID-19 don’t show symptoms, so it’s critical to wear a mask because you could be carrying the virus and not know it,” the CDC said.
“While a mask provides some limited protection to the wearer, each additional person who wears a mask increases the individual