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Berrien County contact tracers overwhelmed by new coronavirus cases

AP Illustration / Peter Hamlin
AP Illustration / Peter Hamlin
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Michigan released its new numbers. On Monday and Sunday combined there were a total of 9,010 new cases and 62 deaths.

The numbers are causing some counties to tell people to do their own contact tracing. Berrien County says it will have to start focusing contact tracing efforts on the most vulnerable groups.

As coronavirus cases continue to hit record levels, local health departments across the country are getting bogged down.

“Berrien County is in a midst of a new surge of cases of coronavirus which are frankly difficult for us to keep up with at this time,” said Gillian Conrad with the Berrien County Health Department.

On Monday the Berrien County Health Department urged people who test positive for the coronavirus to isolate and alert anyone they had close contact with.

The department's contact tracers were doing that job, but they simply can't keep up.

"This has become overwhelming for our team and it's very difficult for us to make all of those phone calls as quickly as we'd like to,” said Conrad.

At this time last month the county was seeing on average 19 new cases a day. Now they're seeing an average of 76 new per day. Each person who tests positive generally has 3 to 5 close contacts that all need to be notified.

The department is shifting priority to people over the age of 65 or anyone who has contact in schools or nursing homes.

"That close contact list can grow exponentially and there's a whole lot more calls that need to be made,” said Conrad.

Berrien County is not alone in this approach.

Kalamazoo County announced similar measures today and officials in Wisconsin made adjustments as well.

But health officials say the most important thing people can is take the precautions they've been preaching about since the beginning.

“There comes a point in which contact tracing is certainly one of the most effective tools we have to cut off the chain of transmission of this virus. However, if the virus is spreading faster than we're able to do our contact tracing process, we have a bigger problem on our hands,” said Conrad.

The Berrien County Health Department is looking to hire more contact tracers to meet the demand and have openings right now.

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They warn that if things don't change, the problems will only get worse.

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