Onondaga, other counties end contact tracing, expect people to inform their own social circles of exposure

Local News

SYRACUSE, N.Y. (WSYR-TV) — The days of widespread contact tracing are coming to an end across New York State, including in Onondaga and Oneida Counties. Their health departments will no longer ask people who test positive for coronavirus to provide names of people they possible exposed.

The change in policy relieves a heavy burden placed on local health departments over nearly the past two years. The historic surge of cases of the Omicron variant and the shortened isolation of five days have left health departments unable to get to every infected person in a timely manner.

Onondaga County

The significant change in policy was made quietly in Onondaga County.

In an email, obtained by NewsChannel 9, the state’s contact tracing coordinator assigned to Onondaga County schools emailed local superintendents with the changes.

She writes: “Onondaga County has asked us to change our interview and processes due to the new guidance… Starting 1/6/22 we are no longer registering any contact for any Onondaga County cases. Cases should be advised to inform any person that they may have exposed that they have tested positive and they should monitor their symptoms. This is true for household contacts, school contacts, workplace exposures or community exposures.”

The change in policy is likely related to the Onondaga County Health Department’s change from calling people who test positive to expecting them to submit their own positive test results online.

A spokesperson writes: “The recent sharp rise in COVID-19 cases has made it impossible to conduct timely and efficient contact tracing. Onondaga County Health Department (OCHD) is urging individuals who test positive to take personal responsibility by isolating immediately and notifying their close contacts so they can quarantine and get tested if necessary. OCHD has provided an updated guidance document and a flowchart to help organizations and individuals understand the isolation and quarantine protocols and make decisions that will protect the health of everyone, especially the most vulnerable in our community.” 

Oneida County

Oneida County outright announced the changed policy Monday.

County Executive Anthony Picente said: “There is no way that local health departments can keep up with the overwhelming volume, so beginning today, we will no longer contact trace cases. Isolation and quarantining must now be self-maintained. Positive infections will continue to be notified, and we will still provide case investigation in some instances.”

Last week, Oneida County announced that any positive cases should report results to the county website, as opposed to waiting for a phone call.

Madison County

A spokesperson for Madison County said its health department has also switched to a self-reporting online form for both isolations and quarantines. Any widespread contact tracing left will be done by New York State.

When it comes to tracking cases and spread of the virus, she said that the Madison County Health Department will continue to monitor “vulnerable population groups such as schools, nursing homes, and other congregate settings for outbreaks.”

For those without a computer, she writes: “We have always been accommodating to those who do not have internet or access. They can always contact us at 315-366-2770 during normal business hours. “

The county’s public health director was not available for an interview.

Cayuga County

In Cayuga County, contact tracing will only be done by the health department for spread among “school-aged children,” according to a spokesperson.

The health department also switched to self-reporting cases online, “since we have such a backlog of cases, many of whom we will never reach.”

Those without computers or internet access can call 315-253-1560.

The Cayuga County health director was not available for an interview.

Oswego County

A spokesperson for Oswego County did not share the status of its contact tracing work, but the county has offered its community an online link to report positive test results.

Other Counties

A spokesperson says the Tompkins County Health Department is awaiting update guidance from New York State before making any adjustments.

A Cortland County spokesperson did not respond to NewsChannel 9’s request for information on contact tracing.

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