(3TV/CBS 5) - A pandemic term you’ve likely heard often lately is contact tracing. It’s the process of tracking down people who came in contact with positive COVID-19 cases.

Maricopa County got almost $400 million from the CARES Act and they’ve put $15 million of that towards contact tracing. Maricopa County Public Health has 86 extra people on staff right now (with plans for 16 more) and contact tracing is one of their big efforts. Though he says it’s important, county spokesman Fields Moseley says the process isn’t a magic wand because the virus has already spread so quickly. Dr. Ross Goldberg, president of the Arizona Medical Association, agrees.

“At this point in the pandemic, with the numbers that we’re seeing, contact tracing, at least my understanding, is not as useful now as it was earlier in our process,” he said.

Still, the Arizona National Guard has placed 40 guardsmen on the state’s exposure notification team, and Major General Michael Maguire says 75 more will be deployed next week. They’ve been trained to call people on exposure lists (provided by counties across the state) and tell them what to look for, whom to contact if they get sick, and where to get tested.

Everyone on the exposure lists gets contacted with an automated survey, usually via text. About 20% of people have been filling those out on their own, and that saves the counties time. When people don’t respond, that’s where the exposure notification team comes in with phone calls, trying to get a hold of people who could be at risk.

Right now Goldberg says the most effective way to combat the spread is for everyone to follow the social distancing and facemask guidelines.

“I want to remind everyone that whatever we do today, we won’t see for a couple of weeks, so we need to be patient and vigilant with it,” he said.

As for the 4% of Maricopa County’s CARES Act money that is going towards contact tracing, Moseley says it’s plenty to get the job done. If Public Health needed more money for contact tracing, the board would give it to them, Moseley said, while still hanging on to $175 million for whatever health needs arise later this year. He says it’s unlikely Maricopa County would ever need CARES money from the state, especially because the money has to be spent by the end of the year, anyway.

“When we come back down, it doesn’t mean it goes away. And it’s probably easier to manage when you have a smaller group,” Goldberg explained. “But that way also, if you do contact tracing at that point, you can try and get ahead of maybe groups that were hot spots.”

 

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