‘Exhausted’: Utah’s contact tracers struggle to keep up as COVID-19 cases surge

Coronavirus Updates

SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 News) – As COVID-19 cases continue to surge, the effects are not just felt by the patients, doctors, and nurses. Public health workers around the state are also struggling to keep up.

They’re the health professionals who track and trace each reported case.

“I am calling about your COVID-19 test results,” a Salt Lake County Health Department worker said into the phone. “So since Sunday who have you been in contact with?”

Now Carrie Butler of the Utah Public Health Association says they’re getting buried under a massive workload and they’re running on fumes.

“Our public health workers are reporting being exhausted,” Butler told ABC4 News. “Their exposure rates are going up. They’re also getting ill and the more we go and the more cases we see just has an exponential impact on our public health workers.”

Every day they make thousands of calls to keep tabs on patients and potential infections, often to people who refuse to cooperate like one group of Davis County parents.

“The moms were asking people not to get tested so that the schools could stay open. That makes the job of a contact tracer very, very difficult,” Butler said. “We need to be able to contact trace. We need to be able to contact people who were exposed to people who are ill and we need to be testing who have symptoms or who have been exposed to people who have symptoms so that we can start to isolate those people and prevent the spread.”

Butler fears that with record case counts the past two days, long hours and high-stress health workers may burn out while trying to keep a handle on this pandemic.

“I worry because I don’t see an end in sight for them,” she said. “The more tired they are the less they can do their jobs well which doesn’t bode well for the public and the continued increase in rates.”

Butler says the workers’ normal projects on deadly public health threats like heart disease, cancer, and smoking have all but ground to a halt during this pandemic. 

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