Growing number of COVID cases overwhelms Hawaii’s contact tracing efforts

The Department of Health said it recently expanded its team, trying to reach infected people — from 269 last week to 313 — but it's still falling behind.
Published: Aug. 19, 2021 at 5:27 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The state’s contact tracing efforts are overwhelmed by the growing number of COVID cases, according to Department of Health data and a DOH insider.

A DOH spokesman said they recently expanded their team from 269 last week to 313, but the team still struggles to keep up with the hundreds of newly infected people every day.

Of the cases contact tracers have successfully reached in July, 67% were contacted in one day, 17% in two days, 11% in three to five days, and 5% in six or more days.

The latest data for August shows only 41% were contacted in one day, with 38% in two days, 18% in three to five days, and 3% in six or more days.

“They call the case, oftentimes the case will have had the infection for a decent amount of time,” said the anonymous source, a Department of Health employee familiar with contact tracing efforts.

“They don’t all get contacted,” they said. “They don’t all get picked up. They don’t all get addressed.”

In the middle of July, DOH data showed contact tracers were able to reach about 90% of people who were infected. The latest data for the first week of August showed they were only able to reach 62%.

“One thing we’re seeing is there are a lot more people not picking up the phone,” said Dr. Sarah Kemble, the Hawaii state epidemiologist. “That aside, we are seeing a record number of case counts in the state. Of course, that is a challenge to try to reach everyone.”

The public schools are also carrying some of a load of finding close contacts of school cases. The chair of the school board, Catherine Payne, said she thought DOH should be doing that.

“I have heard personally from lots of principals who are very burdened by this responsibility,” she said.

The anonymous Department of Health source said a lot of overtime is being worked. A spokesperson with the DOH confirmed this. They said they hope to add more contact tracers, but say this effort is just a piece of the puzzle in ending this wave of infection.

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