Mount Rogers Health District suspends COVID-19 contact tracing as daily cases rise

‘When you double your cases, you can’t provide the same level of thorough case investigation and contact tracing’

With daily cases doubled, it's getting harder to keep up with COVID-19 contact tracing for one local health district.

MARION, Va. – The Mount Rogers Health District announced Friday it is making major changes to the COVID-19 contract tracing process, effective immediately. The Health Director says due to a high number of daily cases, staffing is too scarce to keep up.

“It’s kind of like we are sounding the alarm. I mean, people need to take precautions – safety for themselves, their families and their loved ones,” said Dr. Karen Shelton, Director of the Mount Rogers Health District.

Bland County, Wythe County, Carroll County, Galax and other localities outside of the WSLS 10 News viewing area make up the health district.

Admittedly, November’s dramatic increase in new daily cases caught them by surprise. Even before the Holidays anticipated surge, Dr. Shelton says they reached their tipping point.

“When you double your cases, you can’t provide the same level of thorough case investigation and contact tracing,” said Dr. Shelton.

Hospitalization in the region is expected to surge by the end of December, Shelton says.

The hospital system that services the majority of the health district is suspending elective surgeries next week, an effort to free up the anticipated need for bed space.

Schools are now being advised to go virtual. Medical leaders and superintendents met this week to discuss what’s best moving forward, especially the return after the holiday. However, Dr. Shelton says no outbreaks have been linked to any school system.

The positivity rate for the district is currently 20%, Shelton says, with Southwest Virginia rates double that of state based on population.

“If our healthcare system is overrun, people will die from COVID that don’t need to, but people will also die from other illnesses that shouldn’t have to,” said Dr. Shelton.

As the winter months progress, Dr. Shelton predicts more of a surge in cases. She says your best safeguard is social distancing, handwashing and mask-wearing.

Mount Rogers Health District will continue to investigate all COVID-19 cases, but will rely on infected individuals to reach out to their contacts and inform them of the need to quarantine. Information on isolation, quarantine, contact tracing, and other relevant COVID-19 topics is listed on the Mount Rogers website, Since health department staff will not be doing full contact tracing, they will no longer be able to provide work notes for those in quarantine.

About the Author:

McKinley Strother joined the WSLS 10 News team in June 2020. He anchors 10 News at 6 and 11 on Saturdays and Sundays and you'll also catch him reporting during the week.