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Live Mic: Covid spike brings contact tracing challenge to Utah County

The coronavirus pandemic continues to have a major impact on the nationwide job market. As it turns out, in addition to shutting down plenty of work, it also is creating some new jobs. (PHOTO: Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY —  Contact tracing any possible COVID-19 cases has a built-in flaw: human memory. An infected person has to remember where they have been and who they have had contact with over the past several days — or several weeks, according to lead state epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn.

With its recent spike in Covid cases, the staff in charge of contact tracing at the Utah County Health Department has been maxed out.

From Sept. 23 to Oct. 6, Utah County has tallied 5,262 coronavirus cases. 

Contact tracing

Ralph Clegg, executive director of the Utah County Health Department, joined Live Mic with Lee Lonsberry to discuss the challenges — especially contact tracing — faced by the department during the latest surge in cases.

Clegg said the department can handle about 120 cases per day. He added when case counts reach 600 per day “we really have a difficult time dealing with that.”

He said that’s when the county health department asks the person testing positive to contact the people they have been close to recently. Clegg added that the health department will continue to stay in contact with the high-risk cases in the county.

“That’s kind of the situation we’ve been in for the last three weeks or so,” Clegg said. 

He said Salt Lake and Utah counties were in a similar place in July when they experienced the first surge in Covid cases.

More cases, more contacts

Back in March when things shut down, Clegg said, a positive case typically meant making two contacts. But after Memorial Day when public places began to open, he said a positive case in some instance would have up to 20 contacts.

“When you’re trying to catch three or four people that’s much different than trying to catch 20 people,” Clegg said. 

For each contact, “That’s a phone call that has to be made and a conversation that has to take place,” Lee added.

Clegg stressed that if coronavirus spread is going to be defeated, it means identifying and isolating positive cases and finding and quarantining those who they have come in contact with.

How has the public been in helping with this contact tracing? Lee asked. 

“The public have been fantastic in our state,” he said. “They have been very cooperative and helpful in most cases. They understand how important this is.”

The good news, Clegg said, is the Covid case numbers have come down recently in Utah County.

Live Mic with Lee Lonsberry can be heard weekdays from 12:30 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. on KSL NewsRadio. Users can find the show on the KSL NewsRadio website and app.