Wyoming’s last contact tracers
After an astronomical rise in COVID-19 cases, the state is no longer contact tracing — but some counties and tribes continue their own programs.
In November, the state of Wyoming announced that it had ceased calling the contacts of people who test positive for COVID-19 to let them know they may have been exposed to the virus. Instead, it asked Wyomingites to do it themselves. Health officials from some counties and tribes have continued their own contact-tracing programs, however — and, with the state’s resources stretched thin, that patchwork of local coverage remains key to supporting Wyoming communities.
About six weeks before the announcement, the number of COVID-19 cases in Wyoming began to spike. The state saw just a few dozen new cases a day throughout the spring and summer, but by late November, there were multiple days with more than 1,000 new cases. Surges in hospitalizations and deaths soon followed. With only around 130 public health workers available to make calls statewide, the state had to triage its efforts. It chose to focus on calling people who test positive, but it no longer attempted to notify their close contacts.
As a result, groups like Teton County’s contact tracing team — comprising two dozen County Health Department employees and volunteers — are the state’s remaining contact tracers. When the group started contact tracing, in March, the caseload felt manageable. By late November, it had become overwhelming. “There is no break,” said Andi Gordon, Teton County’s COVID-19 lead case coordinator. But the team remains dedicated to trying to curb the virus’ spread — and keep the community united. “We’re trying to hold on so strongly to that personal touch. I want to keep calling people, because I think people really value that.”