116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY — After nearly two years, Johnson County Public Health ended its COVID-19 contact tracing efforts this week.
The county public health department ended contact tracing and coronavirus disease investigations on Tuesday after the enormous number of new infections reported in recent weeks.
Linn County ended its contact tracing program Dec. 31, also citing overwhelming numbers.
Sam Jarvis, community health manager at Johnson County Public Health, said the staff “strongly believe” in the need to keep the public informed about the virus.
“But with the recent exponential increase in transmission, those efforts are likely less effective,” he said. “It’s hard to get our arms wrapped around it.
“Making this decision to pull back is not a good feeling,” he said. “It feels like a retreat.”
Johnson County experienced a record number of new COVID-19 cases this week, reporting 1,711 positive tests as of Friday, according to the latest coronavirus data from the Iowa Department of Public Health.
That’s the highest seven-day total the county has seen since COVID-19 arrived in Iowa in March 2020.
Some days, the county is seeing more than 300 new cases, Jarvis said.
The county’s seven-day positivity rate is about 22 percent, compared to the 12 percent reported last week, state data shows.
The surge in case counts has made it difficult for contact tracers to reach residents in a timely manner, with a lag time of seven to 10 days in some cases, he added.
Other county public health departments across the state and nation have made similar decisions after the surge in new cases made timely contact tracing nearly impossible.
Linn County Public Health, in ending its program Dec. 31, cited similar challenges as Johnson County.
“Contact tracing is really meant to prevent further spread of disease in a specific region,” Eric Bradley, deputy director of Linn County Public Health, told The Gazette. “Whether or not we continue to do contact tracing, it will still spread.”
The Iowa Department of Public Health ended its routine contact tracing for individual COVID-19 cases statewide in August, instead switching to the model used to track influenza cases.
Jarvis described the end of contact tracing as “heartbreaking,” but said public health officials are proud of the effort they’ve put into the pandemic response.
Johnson County leads the state in vaccinations, with 70 percent of the county population fully vaccinated as of Friday.
As of Dec. 31, Jarvis said, about 50 percent of young county residents, between ages 5 and 11, were fully vaccinated.
In Linn County, 63 percent of the county’s total population is vaccinated.
Statewide, 59 percent of Iowans are vaccinated, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Johnson County Public Health will continue to focus its efforts on educating and informing the public on the latest COVID-19 guidance.
Public health employees, Jarvis said, also are available to answer the public’s questions on positive test results or potential exposures.
The department, he said, is asking the public to practice a layered mitigation approach to slow the spread of the virus.
That includes getting vaccinated and a booster shot, wearing face coverings in public, testing for COVID-19 regularly and staying home when experiencing symptoms.
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