Editorial

Under the direction of Gov. Greg Abbott, state officials need to hire more contract tracers to meet the needs of communities.

Abbott set a goal of hiring 4,000 contract tracers, though researchers estimated the state would need many more than that.

But as reported by the Texas Tribune, the amount of contact tracers in Texas shrunk during the month of June as cases were rising.

As of June 30, only 2,800 contact tracers were working in the state.

Last Sunday, Lara Anton, a spokesperson for the state health department, told the Advocate that state and local health departments were continuing to add staff, but did not respond to questions about how many COVID-19 contact tracers were working in Texas.

While we may not know that exact number, lagging case investigations suggest it is not high enough.

As Diana Cervantes, director of the epidemiology program at the University of North Texas Health Science Center, recently told the Advocate, the volume of COVID-19 cases is so high in most parts of Texas that efficient contact tracing is essential.

For a serious infectious disease like COVID-19, investigating patients can help us understand how they became infected and halt the spread of a disease in its tracks.

But the spread of coronavirus in Texas will continue to unfold at an alarming rate if the state does not pull out all the stops to ensure efficient tracing.

Investigations by the Texas Department of State Health Services Region 8, which serves as the public health authority for many counties in the region, has fallen behind on completing investigations for patients in the region.

Cyndi Smith, emergency operations coordinator for DeWitt County, recently told the Advocate that two nurses have been tasked with tracking down contacts for cases in DeWitt County because the state was overwhelmed and asked for assistance.

Jimmy Schulze, the emergency operations coordinator for Goliad County, has also taken matters into his own hands by trying to talk with community members to gather information about cases among residents.

He said the task is very frustrating because contact tracing takes time away from all of his other duties, but it is his only way to check on Goliad’s patients.

With cases continuing to rise, counties without their own public health departments, in particular, should not be expected to handle their own contact tracing without more resources allocated at the state level.

But counties with public health departments also need more resources because they, too, are inundated with cases to trace.

Victoria County is privileged to have its own epidemiologist and contact tracers at the Victoria County Public Health Department.

Yet the influx of cases has also overwhelmed its resources, forcing contact tracers to prioritize the highest-risk cases and spend less time investigating each case, said David Gonzalez, director of the health department.

Not only does insufficient tracing resources allow for further spread of the virus, but also creates a lag in the data reports that we all use to make the best decisions for ourselves and our families.

In Lavaca County, for instance, the case numbers reported each day lag behind the actual spread of the virus, said Egon Barthels, Lavaca County’s emergency management coordinator.

“Realistically speaking, we are probably giving you results from a week or two ago,” he said.

As Texans who want the best for ourselves, friends, families and neighbors, we should demand more tracing resources to both combat the spread of the coronavirus and ensure we aren’t being forced to make critical decisions based off stale data.

This opinion reflects the views of the Victoria Advocate’s editorial board.

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Allen T Coffey

Considering how the Pandemic response has been handled in Texas and nationwide so far, are we really surprised that this contact tracing failure is occurring?

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