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As COVID-19 cases rise, Salt Lake County shrinks direct calls from contact tracers

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This May 13, 2020, photo taken with a fisheye lens shows a list of the confirmed COVID-19 cases in Salt Lake County early in the coronavirus pandemic at the Salt Lake County Health Department, in Salt Lake City. Health officials later moved to tracking the cases in an online database, but the white board remains in the office as a reminder of how quickly the coronavirus spread. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Coronavirus cases rise, but Salt Lake County has pulled back on the people contact tracers are reaching out to directly.

“We call them and notify them that they’re positive, and we find out how they’re feeling,” said Linda Davis, a public health nurse with the county health department, describing the work of 100 temporary contract tracers, and hundreds of other workers who have been re-deployed to do contact tracing part-time.

“Are you calling also the people with whom they’ve been in close contact?” 2News asked.

“Unfortunately, because of the case counts, they have increased so dramatically in the last few weeks, we’ve had to modify that,” Davis replied.

Now tracers in Salt Lake County only call people who test positive, not people with whom those individuals had close contact. The infected are told to call "close contacts" themselves.

Davis would like to continue calling all of the above, but said there are too many cases to do it, and agreed tracing has become somewhat of an honor system.

“Yes it is,” she said. “Right now, we’re asking people to do their part so they can help us to control the spread of COVID-19.“

Health departments in several other counties — Weber, Davis and Utah — said they are still notifying both people infected with COVID and close contacts. Those who have tested positive are told to isolate for 10 days; those in close contact are directed to quarantine for two weeks.

Liz Close, director of the Utah Nurses Association, cited an online non-profit group known as covidactnow.org, which reported Utah has only 20% of the contact tracers that it needs. The group has stated links to Stanford, Georgetown and Harvard — and maintained thousands more contact tracers are needed in the Beehive State.

Close has been in touch with the governor’s office about it.

“I asked then, and actually today asked again why we’re so low,“ she said.

Close said the response both times was that more contact tracers are being hired.

Our check of pay for contact tracers showed it ranges from roughly $15 to $30 an hour.

A spokesman for the Salt Lake County Health Department said its “shared responsibility” contact tracing “is the model currently in use by the Utah Department of Health.”