Delta variant

Contact Tracing COVID-19 Patients is Still Very Hard

The pandemic is still pushing along, which means COVID-19 contact tracers are still hard at work. One Kaiser Permanente doctor says that process hasn't gotten any easier this year

NBC Universal, Inc.

Six feet. Fifteen minutes.

Those are the measuring sticks used in contact tracing to discover whether someone is at risk of catching COVID-19 from someone else. It's a process doctors say isn't easy.

“It’s not. It’s a very specific process,” said William Tseng, M.D.

Dr. Tseng is Kaiser Permanente’s physician lead for vaccinations in San Diego. He has been on the frontline of COVID-19 since the beginning.

Tseng said he watched the positive numbers skyrocket after the winter holidays, and he’s bracing for a new round of numbers after the Labor Day holiday and the start of the new school year for thousands of San Diego kids.

“I anticipate there will be an increase in numbers. Hopefully it’s not much of an increase,” he winced.

When the County of San Diego receives a positive case, they need to trace who that person came in contact with. People are considered high-risk of contracting the virus if they were within six feet of a positive person for more than 15 minutes in a 24-hour period, according to Tseng. He said it was a tough job to do when where people could go was strict, and it’s just as tough now with regular crowds gathering at places like the beach or the ballpark.

“Definitely, there is a huge difference between this year and last year, and the big difference is that we’ve had vaccinations in place,” he said.

Vaccinations narrow the time people can transmit the virus, thus cutting down the number of people exposed, Tseng said. However, he said the Delta variant is making things interesting.

“That kind of puts a little hitch in this,” he admitted. “I’m hopeful but guarded. I’m concerned but hopeful.”

He’s hopeful the numbers don’t skyrocket again.

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