Contact tracing in Louisiana: Millions spent, results mixed

State News

BATON ROUGE, La. (BRPROUD) — Louisiana has spent more than $30 million on contact tracing since May, but health experts confess the search for people possibly exposed to COVID-19 has met hurdles.

Only 32% of the people reached by the Louisiana Department of Health’s contact tracers have disclosed their close contacts so far, according to agency data spanning from May 15 to Nov. 22.

“It’s probably not as efficient as it could be,” said Dr. Gus Kousoulas, who heads LSU’s Department of Pathobiological Sciences. “

Kousoulas owes the lower-than-liked response, in part, to privacy concerns recipients may have.

“We’re accustomed to having individual freedoms, and that has been misunderstood,” he said. “We are our brother’s keeper. We need to know what everybody else in our community is doing, because ultimately it affects not only us and our family. It affects other people.”

A page on LDH’s website affirms the agency’s stance on handling personal information.

“When the contact tracer calls your close contacts they will never identify you, share your name or your health information,” the page reads.

Contact tracers may ask recipients when they began to have symptoms, when they got tested and why they chose to get tested — as well as about recent close contacts (defined as anyone who has spent more than 15 minutes fewer than six feet apart over a 24-hour span). Tracers will never request Social Security numbers or payment information.

Despite the lingering skepticism, state health officials are seeing more compliance with contact tracing. The percentage of interviewed people who have given LDH their close contacts has more than doubled since July, the agency’s figures show.

Kousoulas suggests the virus’ lingering nature is leaving more people understanding its severity.

“Because of that awareness, I think they’ll be more prone — more afraid really — and reveal contacts and pursue those contacts,” he said. “It’s a natural progression.”

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