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COVID-19 contact tracing: Idaho health districts are thousands of cases behind

Between staffing and technology limitations, local health districts are unable to keep up amid surge of reported COVID cases.

IDAHO, USA — The Idaho Division of Public Health's COVID-19 dashboard is behind approximately 11,500 outstanding positive cases needing local health district review, according to the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare.

That backlog not only limits the accuracy of reported COVID-19 cases in real time, but it also limits local public health districts in their ability to properly contact trace. Contact tracing is a process that notifies close contacts they have been exposed to the coronavirus and gathers information about where the virus is spreading in the community.

This backlog of cases has developed due to a lack of necessary manpower to process cases in real time, according to local health districts. However, hiring more staff hasn't been easy.

"There is a stigma against public health across much of Idaho, including our district, which makes it so people don't want to work for public health simply because they don't want to face the harassment public health workers are facing right now," said Brianna Bodily, public information officer for South Central Public Health District.

All seven public health districts in Idaho receive these cases electronically through the same system. That system is limited in how many cases it can hold. As cases are reported everyday that aren't processed by heath districts, the backlog grows over time.

The backlog has gotten so large that the technology has reached it limits.

"What we're facing now is an issue where we can't even download those cases. We don't know where they are, we don't know who they are," Bodily said. "There is no way to reach out to them even if we had the manpower to do so. Because so many cases are coming in, even the technology is overwhelmed."

Central District Health, Idaho's largest by population, says the solution is at the root of problem. 

"We're seeing more spread in setting that people are not masked, not distancing, and having that closer contact," CDH Communicable Disease Control Department Program Manager Lindsay Haskell said.

Health officials are now asking people to be proactive and self-report to their local district when they test positive. This self-reporting process allows health districts to get the information they need during a statewide surge of cases while under these staffing and technology limitations.

Idaho public health districts with self-report forms available on their websites are listed below:

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