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Editorial: Tracing is vital

Editorial: Tracing is vital

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Last week, officials with the Rock Island County Health Department sent out this plea to people who may be affected by COVID-19: Pick up the telephone!

Health department officials say that too often people they contact, especially young people, are shying away from answering questions from county-employed contact tracers, who are attempting to slow the spread of COVID-19 in the Quad-Cities.

The county health department tells us there are fears among some in the public (wholly unfounded) that their personal data will be shared.

To be clear: Contact tracers are asking very basic health questions that try to pinpoint when a person's symptoms began, who they've interacted with and if a mask was being used. That information isn't shared; it's kept confidential.

Scott County officials tell us that people they've contacted are cooperative. Only 3% couldn't be reached or refused an interview.

Rock Island County did not have figures, but it is enough of a concern that the director of the department, Nita Ludwig, urged people during a news briefing to cooperate.

We would echo that plea. It is vital that people who are infected help protect their neighbors and community, and all it takes is answering some basic questions.

The potential benefits of this kind of contact tracing are enormous. A British study, published in The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health last week, said that, "With increased levels of testing (between 59% and 87% of symptomatic people tested at some point during an active SARS-CoV-2 infection, depending on the scenario), and effective contact tracing and isolation, an epidemic rebound might be prevented."

Put briefly, if the UK is to prevent a second wave, the study said, there must be "large-scale, population-wide testing of symptomatic individuals and effective tracing of their contacts, followed by isolation of diagnosed individuals."

It's a message that would seem to apply to the U.S., too.

Throughout this pandemic, we have seen the woeful lack of testing in this country, the result of a failure to develop a national strategy. Turnaround times are still woefully lacking. But as people talk about ways to reopen the economy — and the schools — it is clear detecting outbreaks when they happen, and isolating people who are affected, is vital.

That means widespread testing and tracing. And it requires the cooperation of all of us.

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