Anchorage health officials plead for residents’ help in contact tracing

A nurse in a white suit, mask and clothes holds a vial
SEARHC personnel test a colleague for COVID-19 at the employee screening tent behind the hospital on April 28, 2020. (KCAW photo/Berett Wilber)

Anchorage health officials say they’ve seen a dramatic drop in the ability of contact tracers to reach residents who have tested positive for COVID-19.  

At a press conference Friday, officials said they’re asking for help from residents who test positive. They want Alaskans to start filling in for the busy contact tracers, who work with infected people to identify others that may have been exposed to the disease.

“We want you to educate yourself and immediately take action,” said Wendy Williams, a public health nurse with the Anchorage Health Department.

That means residents should identify their own close contacts to notify them of their exposure and push them to resources on AHD’s website. 

A 31% increase in cases in Anchorage over the last week, combined with the noncooperation of some residents, has significantly reduced the proportion of people that the city can contact.

While the department has been contacting about the same number of people each week, the percentage of COVID-positive residents they’ve been able to reach has dropped. Two weeks ago they were able to contact 80% of cases; last week, they were only able to contact 54%.

Despite a dedicated team of public health nurses, the case overload is draining morale, Williams said. She said that like other nurses, she’s had to make big sacrifices to try to stay on top of cases. 

“For myself personally, not being able to come home and make dinner for my children and sit down and enjoy a family meal has been the most difficult,” she said, holding back tears, “And what I can say is that we all make sacrifices — we make them in our daily lives. But this is the time, more than ever, where if the only sacrifice we make is to wear a mask, social distance and stay home when we’re sick, I would encourage you to do so.”

Officials are urging residents who may have been exposed to COVID to get tested at the city’s free testing clinics.

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