People not complying with contract tracing questions, health officials say

MEDFORD, Ore. — “We just want to know anonymously where the virus has come from and where the virus has gone, and if people don’t help us provide that link then we’re in the dark,” said Dr. Jim Shames, Jackson Co. health officer.

When you catch coronavirus, there’s always a source of transmission. Maybe you were out at a party with friends or visiting a local restaurant.

Those key details make up a process called contact tracing, an effort for health officials to trace where you got the virus.

But for some, it’s information they’re no longer giving up willingly.

“I think some of it is, people know that they’ve done things they weren’t supposed to do and think somehow that they are going to get in trouble or get someone else in trouble,” said Dr. Shames.

Initially, Dr. Shames says contact tracers were dealing with the elderly and people who have underlying health conditions who he says understood the severity of the virus.

Now, he says two-thirds of cases are in people younger than 50, and how they feel varies.

“Maybe there was some illegal activity taking place, some people are concerned that they’re in this country illegally or maybe they know people that are in this country illegally and don’t want to call attention to themselves,” said Dr. Shames.

“There’s a lot of mistrust of the government and we assure people we’re not wearing red hats or blue hats, but public health hats,” said Dr. Bruce Murray, Josephine Co. Public Health.

Dr. Murray says many people don’t understand how easily the virus spreads.

And when a contact tracer calls, they often say they can handle the situation by simply waiting to see if they or someone around them gets sick.

“During that time where they’re waiting to get sick is when they’re infectious or the first day that they’re sick they’re highly infectious, so waiting for someone to turn symptomatic from Covid we are missing an opportunity to tell them about quarantine to protect their friends and their relatives, particularly those in their family who are more vulnerable,” said Dr. Murray.

The public’s mistrust about what health officials are doing is, no doubt, a growing frustration for both doctors.

They say if contact tracing becomes obsolete, the consequences will be severe.

“We are not in this for any political reason, we are in this because we are longtime residents of Josephine County… we don’t have another ulterior motive,” said Dr. Murray.

“Ultimately, we can’t overwhelm our healthcare system, we can’t afford to run out of equipment, and if we feel like we’re getting to that point we’re going to have to do something drastic to keep everybody safe,” said Dr. Shames.

If a contract tracer reaches out to you, health officials say it’s vital you provide the information asked for.

Again, all information you provide will be anonymous.

If you’re worried it’s a scam call, you can call your local health office to verify it.

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