Knox Public Health (KPH) announced this week that they will no longer investigate individual cases of COVID-19 or conduct contact tracing. This decision follows a recommendation from the Ohio Department of Health (ODH) for local health centers to adopt strategies that will prioritize a range of higher-risk groups, including individuals living in congregate residential settings such as correctional facilities, nursing homes and shelters.
The number of cases in the state of Ohio is currently at a historic high. Ohio hospitalizations due to COVID-19 also hit a pandemic high in early January, and there have been 2,007 deaths so far this year. This led Governor Mike DeWine to order the mobilization of an additional 1,250 members of the Ohio National Guard to help hospitals in desperate need of assistance.
Though it is currently unclear what this might mean for Kenyon, the College dis-cussed this new development at its weekly meeting with KPH on Tuesday, and it is currently assessing the impact these chang-es will have on the campus community.
“As a public health professional, I believe the Knox Public Health decision (which aligns with new Ohio Department of Health guidance) is practical,” Senior Director of Wellness Chris Smith wrote in an email to the Collegian. “The Omicron vari-ant is quickly transmissible and given the CDC recommended reduced quarantine (for exposed) and isolation (for COVID-19 positive infected individuals), contact tracing is less effective at disease mitigation. The cluster or outbreak model of case investigation is a standard approach with other communicable diseases.”
The ODH suggested that local health departments adopt a cluster, or outbreak-based, model in order to prioritize those who are at the highest risk of contracting the virus. The ODH described universal contact tracing and case investigation as “impractical” considering the quick spread of the new omicron variant and the newly reduced CDC timelines for quarantine and isolation.
The hope with cluster-based models is that with the implementation of partial preventative measures, such as masking and getting vaccinated, viral transmission will occur primarily in clusters or small groups of people. Local health centers adopting cluster models would focus on monitoring and investigating the cases in these clusters, as opposed to the cases of every individual in Knox County who was exposed to or infected with COVID-19.
While the majority of state health departments are continuing to conduct contact tracing, often by reaching out via phone or automated text message to positive cases and their contacts, there are some states that are not investigating positive cases, such as Arkansas, Iowa, Massachusetts and Oklahoma. Last September, the state of Texas prohibited the use of budget funds to be used for contract tracing, leaving the responsibility to local health departments to determine the best course of action.
The federal government’s largest roles in managing and addressing the pan-demic are to direct the CDC in providing evidence-supported guidelines and recommendations as well as providing funds to the states. However, it is ultimately the responsibility of each state to decide how to allocate those resources to respond to CO-VID-19 in the ways they see most practical.