Idaho health official says contact tracing is “fundamentally impossible” because COVID Surge overwhelms the hospital system


With a sharp increase in new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations related to the disease in Idaho, a local health official said his district has essentially stopped contact tracing efforts because the prevalence of the infection has become too high for tracers to handle. Dr. Joshua Kern, vice president of medical affairs at St. Luke’s Magic Valley Medical Center in Twin Falls, discussed the way the rising number of diagnoses has “overwhelmed” the area’s public health system during a Wednesday appearance that will soon be part of the NBC Meet the Press.

“The numbers were getting so big that it was basically impossible to keep up with contact tracking,” said Kern Chuck Todd, who moderates Meet the Press, during the recent interview.

“Our health district has made efforts to train more people… good contact tracking takes a few hours per person, but with 500 cases per week, the hours don’t really add up,” he explained. “In a small community like ours, not enough [people]are available.

NEW: When hospitals in Idaho reached the limits of their capacity, Dr. Joshua Kern said the health district had stopped tracking contacts because the system was “overwhelmed. #MTPDaily

Dr. Kern: “The numbers became so large that it was basically impossible to keep up with contact tracking.

– Meeting with the press (@MeetThePress) October 28, 2020

Nearly 61,000 people have tested positive for COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic in Idaho, according to data updated on Tuesday by the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare. At least 585 of those infected with respiratory syndrome have died. In the midst of a nationwide resurgence of confirmed infections currently affecting most U.S. states, Idaho reported a significant increase in nationwide COVID-19 cases in October, setting a new record for the number of single-day diagnoses in the second week of the month. The latest daily increase in cases in the state approached the record level, with more than 880 infections confirmed on Tuesday.

The coronavirus outbreak in Idaho was relatively mild in the first months of the pandemic. The state began to see an increase in cases over the summer, with more than 90 percent of total infections confirmed since early July. Infections skyrocketed in recent weeks as nearly 20,000 new cases were diagnosed nationwide.

The number of patients admitted to hospital with severe COVID 19 cases increased along with confirmed cases from Idaho, setting a new record at the end of last week. Medical facilities in certain parts of the state reached or approached their maximum capacity due to the influx of patients. The St. Luke’s Magic Valley Medical Center, which employs Kern, temporarily suspended admissions of pediatric patients to give priority to the high number of COVID-19 patients.

In response to rising state statistics and increasing pressure on the healthcare system, Idaho Governor Brad Little on Monday reinstated restrictions to contain the further spread of the virus. Restrictions consistent with Stage 3 of Idaho’s reopening plan include attendance limits for group gatherings and regulations to encourage social distancing in restaurants and bars.

Under Level 3, indoor meetings are limited to 50 people or less and participants are expected to wear face masks and maintain a two-meter distance while participating. Idaho was originally removed from the third reopening phase in early June.

Kern addressed the relatively high attendance limit set by the Governor during Wednesday’s Meet-the-Press interview. He told Todd that he believed the increase in virus cases, at least in his region, was primarily related to transmission among smaller groups.

“Backyard barbecues… that kind of thing. People kind of get this COVID fatigue and try to feel like ‘Let’s get back to normal’,” Kern said. “But they all did it at once, and now we’ve got the virus everywhere”…


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