KSL Investigates: Overwhelmed Contact Tracers Relying On Patients To Self-Trace

Nov 12, 2020, 11:39 PM | Updated: Jun 19, 2022, 9:57 pm

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah — Salt Lake, Utah and Davis counties are seeing the biggest numbers of COVID-19 cases.

The KSL Investigators reached out to see how this surge of cases is impacting their efforts to track the pandemic. In all three counties, we learned the number is overwhelming contact tracing efforts.

In Salt Lake County, every single health department employee has contact tracing duties on at least a part-time basis. Nicholas Rupp with the Salt Lake County Health Department said this work is done in addition to other work duties, like restaurant inspections.

In addition, Salt Lake has 150 full-time contact tracers. Early in the pandemic, they were able to reach out to all possible contacts of each positive patient to notify of possible exposure. But as cases grew, that breadth of tracing became impossible to maintain.

Some counties are notifying employers of a positive patient, but most don’t have time.

Now, contact tracers are limiting their tracing efforts to the immediate household members of someone who tests positive for COVID-19.

All three counties told KSL most of their patients receive their results and a call from a contact tracer within 24-48 hours.

Aislynn Tolman-Hill, public information officer for Utah County Health Department, said that goal is not always attainable.

“It’s, one, a struggle just to get those cases assigned out to our contact tracers. Two, it’s hard for those contact tracers to try to make contact with those individuals,” she said.

To speed up the process, Tolman-Hill said the county is looking into a digital way to notify someone they have COVID-19.

“The number of cases that we have, it absolutely would be helpful,” she said. “Without a doubt.”

What About Healthy Together?

The state of Utah already has an app that was initially designed to help with contact tracing and notifying folks of their COVID-19 test results: the Healthy Together app. Utah continues to pay $300,000 per month for this technology.

However, the GPS tracing was disabled, and now mostly serves as a way for users to check their symptoms and get additional information about what to do if they get COVID.

We asked Tom Hudachko, public information officer for the Utah Department of Health, if Healthy Together could be adapted to be more broadly useful in contact tracing efforts. Hudachko said, “we see Healthy Together continuing to play the role that it’s playing right now.”

Hudachko said UDOH put out a request for proposal for Bluetooth technology to interface with the Healthy Together app, but the state’s budget would not allow for this expansion.

Instead, the state canceled the request and are exploring the free technology available through a partnership with Apple and Google.

New App: Notification Express

The Notification Express tool allows your phone to “talk” to other phones enabled with the Bluetooth feature. It tracks the user’s interactions with other phones for 14 days. When someone encounters another who is COVID-positive or tests positive later for COVID, it sends an alert of exposure.

Another feature allows the user to self-report a COVID diagnosis, which will then alert the other users with whom that person has been near that they have been exposed.

“No data is ever transferred to Apple or to Google or to the state for that matter,” said Hudachko. “Your phone, all the information, all the data and all the location information reside on it.”

A similar app was launched in Colorado just a few weeks ago, and so far, more than 800,000 people have signed up. It’s currently used in 15 other states.

The app is not yet available in Utah. Hudachko told us there is no timeline on when it will be ready.

iPhones already have this feature on their phones, and Android users will have to download an app when it is available. This tech launched on May 20.

Importance Of Self-Tracing

While COVID-19 cases remain high, Hudachko said contact tracing is largely up to the person who tests positive. Those calls can be uncomfortable for some to make, but he said it’s vital that others know if they have been exposed.

“The only way that we’re going to get ahead of the curve is by getting to people who have been exposed and asking them to quarantine, asking them to watch for symptoms, and to get tested themselves,” he said.

Tolman-Hill echoed that Utah is at a critical point for all citizens to work together to slow the spread.

“It truly is about all of us working together,” she said. “Like it or not, it really is.”

Have you experienced something you think just isn’t right? The KSL Investigators want to help. Submit your tip at investigates@ksl.com or 385-707-6153 so we can get working for you.

KSL 5 TV Live

Top Stories

KSL Investigates

A rendering of a cell site simulator. (KSL TV)...
Daniella Rivera and Annie Knox

Utah placed limits on police use of spy tech; Do they go far enough?  

For months, the KSL Investigators have been asking questions about spy technology law enforcement uses but doesn’t want to talk about. What exactly does the high-tech tool do, and what happens to your information if it gets caught up in a digital dragnet?
2 days ago
FILE PHOTO - Shown are a smartphone and computer....
Matt Gephardt & Sloan Schrage, KSL TV

Why you should stop using your work computers, phones for personal use

Many Utahns are still working from home, spending a lot of time on their work computers. That can make it easy to forget it's not a personal computer. But KSL's Matt Gephardt has three reasons why you should use your work computers for one thing — work.
2 days ago
fireworks injuries study...
Matt Gephardt

Study: More people need E.R. care after playing with fireworks

A report from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission may throw a wet blanket on your 4th of July plans – or at least make you think about bringing a wet blanket with you just in case your family’s celebration adds to a troubling trend.
4 days ago
Peter Ingle talking to Matt Gephardt...
Matt Gephardt & Cindy St. Clair, KSL TV

Too risky to insure? Why your homeowner’s insurance could go up in smoke

There are good reasons for an insurance company to drop your homeowner’s coverage. But what happens when you’re dropped for something you have no control over? KSL Investigator Matt Gephardt went out to find: can they do that?
5 days ago
FILE - Thousand gather at the Utah State Capitol to support a woman's right to choose. (KSL TV)...
Daniella Rivera

‘It was hastily passed’: Medical, legal experts raise concerns about Utah’s abortion trigger law

Senate Bill 174, passed by the Utah Legislature in 2020, was crafted, in part, to send a message. Now, medical and legal experts are sounding alarm bells about how it will work in practice.
8 days ago
FILE - Credit and deposit cards on a computer keyboard. Electronic commerce, business. Online shopp...
Matt Gephardt

Gephardt Busts Inflation: Americans shy away from using credit cards abroad, missing out on best exchange rates

As COVID-19 wanes, travel agencies are seeing a massive spike in bookings as folks look to spread their wings and travel abroad.
8 days ago

Sponsored Articles

hand holding 3d rendering mobile connect with security camera for security solutions...
Les Olson

Wondering what security solutions are right for you? Find out more about how to protect your surroundings

Physical security helps everyone. Keep your employees, clients, and customers safe with security solutions that protect your workplace.
Many rattan pendant lights, hay hang from the ceiling.Traditional and simple lighting....
Lighting Design

The Best Ways to Style Rattan Pendant Lighting in Your Home

Rattan pendant lights create a rustic and breezy feel, and are an easy way to incorporate this hot trend into your home decor.
Earth day 2022...

How Are You Celebrating Earth Day 2022? | 4 Simple Ways to Celebrate Earth Day and Protect the Environment

Earth Day is a great time to reflect on how we can be more environmentally conscious. Here are some tips for celebrating Earth Day.
Get Money Online...

More Ways to Get Money Online Right Now in Your Spare Time

Here are 4 easy ways that you can get more money online if you have some free time and want to make a little extra on the side.
Lighting trends 2022...

Lighting Trends 2022 | 5 Beautiful Home Lighting Trends You Can Expect to See this Year and Beyond

This is where you can see the latest lighting trends for 2022 straight from the Lightovation Show at the Dallas World Trade Center.
What Can't You Throw Away in the Trash...

What Can’t You Throw Away in the Trash? | 5 Things You Shouldn’t Throw in to Your Trash Can

What can't you throw away in the trash? Believe it or not, there are actually many items that shouldn't be thrown straight into the trash.
KSL Investigates: Overwhelmed Contact Tracers Relying On Patients To Self-Trace