Austin-Travis County contact tracing abilities impeded by widespread transmission of COVID-19, officials say

Officials with Austin-Travis County say that contact tracing has become challenging due to the widespread transmission of the virus.

Austin Public Health (APH) says it continues to hire new case investigators to follow the exponentially growing caseload but APH leadership and medical professionals are asking residents to do their part to protect themselves and others from the spread of COVID-19.

Contact tracing is the labor-intensive process used to identify those who come into contact with people who have tested positive for many contagious diseases – such as measles, HIV, and COVID-19. 


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicates that contact tracing serves are a vital function in the containment of infectious diseases like COVID-19. However, in times of uncontrolled spread of a disease with symptoms that may not present until two weeks after infection, contact tracing becomes difficult.

Between trips to the grocery store, restaurants, and visiting homes of family and friends, a person can make hundreds of contacts in a single week. Combine this with a delay of lab processing, and the ability to get to a positive case’s contacts becomes a larger obstacle.

RELATED: Austin Public Health revises risk-based guidelines chart

“Our concern is that the public may be relying on Austin Public Health contact tracing to contain this,” said Dr. Mark Escott, Interim Austin-Travis County Health Authority says in a release. “Contact tracing in this time of uncontrolled widespread transmission is not going to be as effective, especially if people continue to have increased contact with others outside of their household."

"We're asking that people not depend on contact tracing at this stage of the outbreak, but instead lend us their support and engagement to join our mission to slow the spread of this relentless virus once again," Dr. Escott adds.


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Given the large number of cases and contacts of cases, APH is also facing the need to prioritize contact tracing in alignment with CDC guidance. Prioritization is based on vulnerability, congregate settings and workplaces, and healthcare facilities, including long-term care facilities.

Due to test result delays, APH wants to remind everyone if you are awaiting results, you should self-isolate immediately to help prevent the disease from spreading. This includes isolating yourself from other family members to decrease the risk of household spread of COVID-19, which is a significant factor in the current surge.

If an individual cannot self-isolate in their own room with their own bathroom, if there are members of their household who are at higher risk for serious illness, or if a member of their household is an essential worker, they should call the City of Austin’s Isolation Facility at 512-810-7554 to make arrangements for free accommodation for the duration of their infectious period.

RELATED: Austin City Council holds special meeting to discuss COVID-19

Individuals eligible to stay at the ISOFAC are not charged for the service. Patients who remain at an ISOFAC have a free hotel room with food and WiFi.

“If you have symptoms, you need to act like you have COVID-19, we are at that point in the spread right now,” said Janet Pichette, APH Chief Epidemiologist.

Officials are also asking that people recognize the severe surge in cases and hospitalizations and celebrate the Independence Day holiday responsibly by avoiding non-household gatherings, including gatherings with extended family and friends.

The public is reminded to:

  • Stay home, especially if you are sick
  • Wear a mask or face covering
  • Wash your hands
  • Avoid touching your face
  • Stay six-feet away from others
  • Disinfect surfaces



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