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Contact tracing in WI no longer waits for positive COVID-19 test

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MADISON (WKOW) -- State officials say the process of contact tracing to try to reign in the spread of the coronavirus in Wisconsin no longer is waiting for a positive test.

"This means we contact everyone who has a positive test and in fact, we are moving to contact everyone who has a test," Wi. Department of Health Services Deputy Secretary Julie Willems Van Dijk says.

Willems Van Dijk says contact tracing is an important companion to testing efforts that have gone from zero tests for COVID-19 in early March to a capacity of 11,000 tests daily in the state now -- that number is currently at 2,000-3,000 daily according, according to DHS (citing other factors).

"Contacting everyone who has a test, even before they know the results...lets them know they must isolate at home until the test results come back," Willems Van Dijk says.


Dane County public health nurse Eva Radomski is one of thirty six members of a COVID-19 response team with the assignment of carrying out contact tracing.

"I personally feel invested because I grew up in this community," Radomski tells 27 News.

Radomski says Wisconsin's Safer at Home order means people who have been tested for the coronavirus often have had only limited contacts with others during the window of potential virus spread. She says health professionals are interested in contact with people closer than six feet away of the tested person, and up to two days before symptoms surfaced.

Radomski says for some people who are reached with telephone calls in the tracing process, the universe of contacts can be large at times.

"There are essential workers who've been out at their work place or they might live with roommates...and have a couple different household contacts," Radomski tells 27 News.

Radomski says the contract tracing process is strictly confidential. She says when she reaches those in contact with a potentially infected person, they often ask who has made them vulnerable to the virus's transmission. Radomski says that information cannot be divulged. But she says the people she contacts are given health education to try to keep them as safe as possible.

"Identifying each one of those contacts helps us being able to slow the spread because we're able to let those people know that they should stay home as well," Radomski says.

Willems Van Dijk says contact tracing contributes to a public health strategy to allow more targeted restrictions in Wisconsin.

"It's about isolating or boxing in people with the virus, rather than isolating and boxing in all of the people," Willems Van Dijk says.

State officials says a process of deploying an additional 1,000 more contact tracers in Wisconsin is taking place.

"If we conduct 85,000 tests a week and if ten percent are positive, we will need to interview 8,500 people. And if each of them has five contacts, that's another 42,500 people," Willems Van Dijk says. "We're not there yet, but we're making progress."

"Contact tracing is such a great tool we have right now to help minimize the spread and people don't realize it's being done," Radomski says.

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Tony Galli

Reporter, WKOW

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