THIS POST IS PART OF A SERIES ON THE NEED TO REBUILD ARIZONA’S PUBLIC HEALTH INFRASTRUCTURE.
Identifying the infected is step one in getting an epidemic under control. For that, you need a massive and scientifically rigorous testing program, which, according to the Ducey Administration, we now have capacity to do testing on demand. We should be immediately focus on testing congregate living facilities residents and workers, who are the most vulnerable to infection and most at risk from the effects of COVID-19.
What do you do once you have identified a case? You have to isolate the individual: give them the facilities and support they need to protect the public by not spreading the disease. That means a place to stay where they can safely isolate if they have family or neighbors who would be at risk if they stayed home. That means food and medical monitoring and support in case they take a turn for the worst. I will discuss this further in a later post.
What’s next? Contact tracing. You have to identify and test all the possible vectors of disease transmission from that positively tested individual. County and state health departments routinely do this during outbreaks, but the scale of what we are facing with over 5,000 confirmed cases, and likely many thousands more that are yet unidentified and even asymptomatic, is unprecedented, and way beyond our normal capacity.
“Maricopa County currently has 25 contact tracers, but plans to add eight to ten times more in the weeks ahead.” A squad of 250-300 contact tracers is not nearly sufficient for the task of tracing thousands of infections in a reasonable time scale to prevent more community spread. We need thousands of contact tracers across Arizona.
The CDC recognizes that “[c]ontact tracing in the US will require that states, tribes, localities and territorial establish large cadres of contact tracers.” We have barely begun the expansion in manpower we will need. We need to hire and train a literal army of contact tracers here in Arizona, since it is obvious there will be no real leadership from the White House in responding to the pandemic.
Not only is contact tracing vital to contain the spread of the virus, it will move us closer to getting back to some semblance of normality. It will put some of the nearly 600,000 Arizonans (as of this writing on April 24th) out of work due to the crisis, providing needed income into many families.
Ducey has the authority, the resources, the need – all that is required is the will to act. Why hasn’t he announced any plan to expand contact tracing in Arizona?
The counties cannot do this on their own, just considering budgetary constraints. We need Gubernatorial leadership and resources on this issue. Step up, Governor Ducey. Save lives.