SEATTLE (AP) — A new study says a comprehensive system of testing, contact tracing and quarantines will be needed to avoid a burst of new COVID-19 infections before King County can ease social-distancing restrictions.
The Seattle Times reports the study from the Bellevue, Washington-based Institute for Disease Modeling says such measures could enable economic and social activity in the region to double from current levels, without a corresponding increase in infections,
But if King County can’t increase testing capacity, fails in its efforts to notify the close contacts of positive cases or can’t convince people to isolate if they’ve been exposed to the virus, new infections could sharply increase, the report says.
“It took a community-wide effort to get us into the relatively good situation we are in today with respect to limiting transmission,” said Dr. Jeff Duchin, health officer for Public Health — Seattle & King County. “And it’s going to take a robust, ongoing community-wide effort to allow us to move forward safely.”
King County remains in phase one of Gov. Jay Inslee’s four-phase plan to reopen Washington’s economy. The soonest King County could conceivably move to the next phase is Monday, but it is currently nowhere near the low levels of new cases that is one of the criteria for reopening.
The state Department of Health and National Guard have ramped up their abilities to help county health departments with the tedious task of contact tracing — calling each person who tests positive for the virus and then calling all the people they have been in contact with and asking them to quarantine.
The state has trained more than 2,100 people for the task. Contact tracing is a fundamental and decades-old public health tool, but Public Health — Seattle & King County had to stop investigating each case of the virus in early March, as the number of cases became overwhelming.
The state is conducting about half the contact tracing investigations in King County, Duchin said, but he’s hopeful the county will be able to handle all new cases by the end of June.