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Kent Co. Health Dept. hoping for more cooperation with contact tracing

Posted at 5:03 PM, Jul 13, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-13 17:03:44-04

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich — Experts have said that big part of containing the spread of COVID-19 is contact tracing, but the Kent County Health Department tells FOX 17 that they’re running into some issues with people cooperating with those efforts. The biggest hurdle: getting people to answer an unknown number.

Brian Hartl, an epidemiologist with the KCHD said knowing if you’ve come into contact with someone who’s tested positive for COVID-19 can make a huge difference in slowing the spread.

Hartl said, “People have a right to be leery of people who call and ask for their information especially for information about their health. “

As West Michigan is declared a ‘high-risk’ area, the KCHD is asking for everyone’s help your help tracking and stopping the spread of COVID-19.

“We are doing it to gather information about you, make recommendations of isolation, and identify people you’ve been in close contact with, so we can contact them about ways that they can potentially stop transmission,” Hartl said.

He added that right now, the health department isn’t getting quite the response they’d like.

“I would say an estimate around at 60% of people that we’re able to get in touch with within a 24 hour period,” he said.

If someone doesn’t pick up the phone, the department will leave a message. They can also send a text message and a letter in mail as a last resort.

Hartl also wants to assure people that they’re personal information is safe.

He said, “That’s all we’re going to use it for, we are not going to, down the line, call them up or sell it to someone else or use their information to talk to the media about their case.”

Hartle said that West Michigan is seeing an increase of cases and testing, but not a dramatic one.

“Right before the Fourth of July we had about 100 cases in one day and we’ve met that mark a couple more times last week as well. We are talking an increase of about 40 to 50 cases over what we had been seeing,” Hartl said.

Still, he’s urging people to mask up and keep your distance from others.

“We want people to go out and about and be able to do things, but we want people to maintain those precautions,” he said.

The next time you get a call from an unknown number, Hartl hopes more will considering answering.

He said, “Your cooperation is helpful when you pick up that phone call, answer our questions, give us information, and follow those recommendations that we provide to you. That’s all part of helping this area, our county, this region limit those numbers of cases that we see each day and hopefully get back to a sense of normalcy..”

A trained group of volunteers is responsible for making these phone calls and they will identify that they are with the health department during that phone call.

If you’re unsure if you’re on the Kent County Health Departments list of people who they’re trying to contact, you can call (888) 535 - 6136.