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State pleads for cooperation with contact tracing

  • By Sarah Fay Campbell
  • |
  • May. 29, 2020 - 7:57 PM

Contact tracing is key to stopping the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19. But Georgia’s contact tracing program will only be successful if people cooperate with it.

That’s the message Dr. Kathleen Toomey, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Public Health, expressed at Thursday’s press briefing.

“One plea I have for you – please encourage people to cooperate with us,” Toomey said. “Contact tracing will not be successful if the people we call don’t answer the phone or refuse to be part of this process. It will only be successful if we can get people to cooperate, to identify others that they have been exposed to and to try to stop the spread of the virus quickly.

“That is the intent of this,” she said of the contact tracing program. “It is not to be intrusive or to violate civil liberties. Quite the contrary. It is to protect the public and stop the virus as effectively and quickly as we can. A plea to the public, now, is an important message to get out.”

Toomey said she has met virtually with the Georgia Chamber of Commerce and the Metro-Atlanta Chamber, at their request, to talk about contract tracing.

She said business leaders have committed to not only educating their employees but to help promote the importance of cooperating with contract tracing. Toomey said the department is working on a video, which will be released in both English and Spanish, “so we will be able to reach as many people as possible to educate them about this process.”

Toomey said she thinks having the business community reach out has “reinforced how important this is.”

As of Monday, the department will have 800 contract tracers ready, Toomey said. The goal was to have 1,000 by the end of June.

“For Georgia’s economy to succeed, we have to succeed in stopping this virus,” Toomey said. “And it’s going to require the full-court press with all of us working together.”

Toomey said that the Department of Public Health is tracking virus “hot spots” and is going to those areas to follow up on areas of concern. There has been increased testing in high-risk facilities and for high-risk workers.

The state’s numbers of positive tests spiked last week, but Gov. Brian Kemp said much of that can be attributed to a “large dump” of data by a private lab. There were about 15,000 test results reported, and some dated back to April, he said.

“The bad news is there was a big backlog of cases,” Kemp said. “The good news is they are now caught up.”

On May 18, 957 positive cases were reported – the highest single-day total since the pandemic began. On May 19, there were 744 positive cases reported. The next day, it dropped to 641.

“We feel like that is the reason for the spike in the cases,” Kemp said. Otherwise, “the numbers continue to look good; bed capacity continues to look good.”

Kemp said he was speaking to officials from Piedmont Healthcare who said their hospitalization numbers were up “slightly” but that was because of nursing home patients. Nursing homes and other long-term care facilities “continue to be where our battle is,” Kemp said.

“Nothing we’re seeing right now alarms us,” he said. On Thursday, he announced that bars and nightclubs can reopen, issued rules for summer camps, increased the allowed gathering size to 25 and said amusement parks could open in mid-June.

“I wouldn’t have made these moves if Dr. Toomey wasn’t comfortable,” Kemp said.