Mecklenburg Health Director Says Contact Tracing Isn’t Working Here

David Boraks
July 30, 2020

Mecklenburg County’s health director says she’s worried that contact tracing isn’t working and that makes it hard to prevent the coronavirus from spreading.

Contact tracing is how public health officials try to identify and isolate anyone who has come in contact with an infectious disease. It has been a key to limiting spread of the coronavirus in Asia and other places. But Mecklenburg County Public Health Director Gibbie Harris said a lot would have to change for it to work here.

“We’ve been having conversations with both the CDC and the state about whether contact tracing in a pandemic, in our current environment, is as useful as we might need it to be,” Harris said in an interview. “Whether we either slow down on the contact tracing or whether we crack down on the enforcement, there’s two different ways you could go with that.”

Harris said people who test positive for the virus are not answering their phones or not sharing the names and information of those they’ve come in close contact with. In fact, she said, the number of contacts that people share has declined recently. She did not give any numbers.

North Carolina Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen said recently the state’s contact tracers are reaching only about one-third to one-half of those they call.

Harris said Meckelnburg County officials are contacting about 800 people a day to inform them they’ve been exposed.  She didn’t have an exact number, but said, “We’re not getting strict compliance from 800 individuals.”

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This story was produced by the Charlotte Journalism Collaborative, a partnership of six media companies working together in an effort started by the Solutions Journalism Network and funded by The Knight Foundation.