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Unable to keep up with contact tracing, southwest Idaho health district launches online self-reporting COVID tool

Signs lead people to a COVID-19 vaccination clinic set up at a park in Caldwell. Saint Al’s provides interpreter services for non-English speakers and has focused on helping Latinos get vaccinated against COVID-19.

Southwest District Health, which covers six counties in Idaho, announced in a press release Wednesday that it has launched a new COVID-19 data collection tool for self-reporting since the district is unable to conduct contact tracing in a timely manner.

The health district attempts to contact each person with a new positive case to learn about exposure, the person’s experience with the illness, treatment and the ultimate outcome. The process helps the district monitor disease trends and gather data that helps inform public health decisions, the release said.

As of Wednesday, the district’s average case load is 150 per day with a test positivity rate of 18.3%, according to the release.

Given the rise in COVID cases and limited staffing, there is a significant backlog in case investigations, the release said, and staff members have been unable to conduct contact tracing in a timely manner. Instead, the district, which includes Adams, Canyon, Gem, Owyhee, Payette and Washington counties, is asking individuals with a positive COVID test to use a secure online form to share their experience and provide crucial information about severity of illness among specific populations by demographics, as well as exposure, vaccination breakthrough and hospitalization data.

“We are on a very concerning trajectory. Our hospitals are full, and we anticipate the situation will worsen before it improves,” said Nikki Zogg, the health district’s director. “Southwest District Health is making every effort to provide accurate and timely data and information to our community, schools, businesses and elected officials, but we cannot keep up with the current pace of new cases being reported each day. Our community can help us by making the decision to get vaccinated, staying home when sick, avoiding the emergency department unless it is necessary, and assisting Southwest District Health by providing timely information following a positive SARS-CoV-2 PCR test.”

The district isn’t the only one in Idaho that is unable to conduct contact tracing as cases remain high throughout the state. At the end of August, Panhandle Health District officials said they had as many as 900 cases backlogged in a single day.

Southwest District Health said residents who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 are encouraged to notify those they have been in close contact with up to two days prior to developing symptoms or testing positive. Close contacts should isolate at home for 14 days to help reduce the spread of the virus, according to the district.

To book a vaccine appointment or schedule a COVID test, call 208-455-5411. The call center is available from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday except for observed holidays.

The Idaho Capital Sun is a nonprofit news organization delivering accountability reporting on state government, politics and policy in the Gem state. As longtime Idahoans ourselves, we understand the challenges and opportunities facing Idaho. We provide in-depth reporting on legislative and state policy, health care, tax policy, the environment, Idaho’s explosive population growth and more. Our mission is relentless investigative journalism that sheds light on how decisions in Boise and beyond are made and how they affect everyday Idahoans. We aim to tell untold stories and provide data, context and analysis on the issues that matter most throughout the state. The Capital Sun is part of States Newsroom, a national 501(c)(3) nonprofit supported by grants and a coalition of donors and readers. We retain full editorial independence.