Help is on the way to improve COVID-19 contact tracing in Boone County

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COLUMBIA - A top Boone County health official said there is still one problem with the COVID-19 system when it comes to contacting positive cases.

"We're a little behind in getting in touch with new cases," Scott Clardy, Boone County Assistant Health Director, said.

KOMU saw the first-hand impact of this when reporter Peyton Headlee tested positive for the virus.

"I can't even remember what was said on the phone call," she said. "Just so many things go through your mind, it's kind of a scary phone call."

The phone call from the county health department came 48 hours after Headlee received the positive result to her test.

When a person tests positive for the new coronavirus, they are placed in a queue for contact tracing. Investigators are in charge of interviewing each person to get a list of their close contacts. 

A close contact is described as anybody with whom the infected person interacted with less than six feet apart for about 15 minutes, hugged or gave a handshake.

"That phone call lasted almost an hour, we went from that day forward talking about who I was around and I had to give phone numbers of the contacts," Headlee said.

Then, volunteer contact tracers are responsible for calling all close contacts. Those tracers do not know who the infected person is to maintain confidentiality. 

"We've now contacted well over 3,000 contacts and I'm sure when you're dealing with that volume that there are some misunderstandings," Todd Guess, who leads the contact tracing team, said.

One of those misunderstandings is from Carolyn Russell, Headlee's roommate. 

"The contact tracer told me to quarantine based on the first day I saw Peyton, not on the most recent times," Russell said.

"It's 14 days from the last contact they had with that person," Clardy said.

Despite the confusion, hope and clarity are likely on the way.

Clardy says there are 10 new case investigators being trained, which could help clear up the hole.

"The CARES Act funding came through.... we finally got some money to pay contact tracers who are going to be dedicated to this role," Guess said.