Sonoma County looks to hire more contact tracers as it records uptick of new coronavirus cases
As Sonoma County moves closer to reopening more of its economy, public health officials are moving quickly to bolster the corps of workers who track the virus’s spread through the community while the number of new cases continues to rise.
Interactions with people known to have COVID-19, county officials said, are thought to be responsible for most of the county’s recent cases, a tally which grew by 96 between May 14 and Wednesday, the highest seven-day increase in cases since COVID-19 was first detected in the county on March 4. By comparison, the county took about a month to record its first 96 cases, though testing was far more limited during that period.
But Public Health Officer Dr. Sundari Mase, said the county needs more data to understand just how many of these new active cases can be traced back to known COVID-19 patients — and how many contracted it from being out and about in the community. To track the growing number of cases, the county is seeking to hire more workers to interview people who test positive and reach out to others they may have had contact with, work that is seen as pivotal to stemming local circulation of the contagion.
“We are seeing more and more cases of someone in the community with no contacts having COVID,” Mase said Wednesday, “and that probably is secondary to the increased testing, and may also be from somebody being out and about. It’s kind of hard to parse out.”
Increasing desire to reopen the economy has not made the virus any less contagious Mase said. She called it “extremely transmissible,” particularly within households.
“I’ve always said we will see more cases as we start opening the county in different sectors, and that’s what we’re seeing,” Mase said.
As of Wednesday, the county has recorded a total of 433 cases of COVID-19. The county reported 22 new cases Wednesday, tied for the highest daily confirmed increase since the start of the pandemic. Of the total number of cases, 225 are active and 204 have recovered, the first time the county has had more active cases than recoveries since May 5. Four people have died.
“The majority of the cases are still happening with contacts,” said Mase, referring to instances where people have been infected through clear interactions with coronavirus carriers and distinguished from “community spread” cases, where the precise vector of transmission is not as certain or is unknown. “However, we have lots of contacts that are being tested.”
The county plans to hire 40 to 50 college students to perform contact tracing as part of its ramp-up toward reopening more types of businesses, according to a county spokesman. The work does not require any medical background, and the county also expects to receive some resources from the state to help, Mase added.
Sonoma County needs to have at least 75 contact tracers to meet a state benchmark for need and currently has 75 to 80 contact tracers, according to a county spokesman.
The county’s plan is to have 150 trained contact tracing staff by June 15 and 230 by July 15, which would exceed a state recommendation to have three times the minimum benchmark.
The county currently provides data about sources of local coronavirus cases, but only as a snapshot in time — about 62% of current cases have been traced back to close contact, with another 19% coming from community spread and the rest either from travel or pending investigation.