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Overcoming LA County’s Unique Contact Tracing Challenges

Contact tracing for COVID-19 has presented its share of challenges since the very start of the pandemic, and nowhere is this more apparent than in Los Angeles County.

From the beginning, the densely populated county has been extremely vigilant about trying to slow the spread of the virus and protect its residents. This means constantly adapting policies to address new strains of the virus, dramatic spikes in cases, and ever-changing CDC guidelines.

Protocols in place one week might not be in place the next, forcing contact tracers working with organizations in the county to remain forever on their toes. In addition, the Cal/OSHA contact tracing requirements involving employees are among the strictest in the country.

To paraphrase from a famous song about a city on the other side of the United States, “If you can contact trace there, you can contact trace anywhere.”

PubSEG knows all about the challenges that come with contact tracing and disease case investigation in LA County. We partner with multiple organizations within the county, including some of our largest clients.

“All of the different types of clients we have are represented in LA County, from government to universities to K-12 schools,” says Caitlin Tucker-Melvin, PubSEG’s Assistant Manager of Operations. “So we’re constantly staying up to date with all of those different scenarios.”

As a supervisor working on multiple LA County programs, Fabiola Botello must remain well-versed in the county’s latest COVID protocols and reporting requirements, which can differ significantly based on the type of organization we’re working with.

“It can be a little difficult when you’re dealing with not only K-12 schools, but also universities or cities,” she says. “Sometimes the guidelines do change depending on the organization we’re working with. The guidelines might apply to this person but might not apply to that person—you really do need to stay focused on keeping everything intact.”

The tricky part is that, even if you’ve mastered the differences between contact tracing for students and employees, you’re always learning something new. That’s because the guidelines you’re adhering to today might be dramatically different the following week. 

“I would say LA County definitely does their own thing,” Fabiola says. “Things can change on a weekly basis. Sometimes, when the numbers are spiking, they’ll change their protocols suddenly—for example now you need to wear a mask in certain situations where last week you didn’t.

“You have to stay on top of it and always need to be checking their guidelines,” she continues. “They don’t have a lot of briefings anymore, so you have to go on their website yourself to keep up with everything.”    

Examples of LA County’s stringent guidelines include a detailed process for determining when an exposure actually occurred, based on factors such as the size of the room, the number of people in the room, and whether the room is ventilated. There are also highly specific isolation requirements, based on a variety of factors.

It’s no secret why LA County has firmly maintained its virus mitigation efforts, even as some politicians boldly (and falsely) declare “COVID is over.” The county is by far the most populated in the United States, with approximately double the number of residents as the runner-up (Cook County, Illinois).

With so many people, it’s always going to be a challenge to keep the virus in check. More than 3.6 million county residents have tested positive for COVID, about one-third of the population. During a recent week, the county averaged 931 new cases and 19.4 new deaths per day, according to the Los Angeles Times’ coronavirus tracker.

Even after three years, COVID is still a burden on administrators and health officials tasked with keeping their schools and communities safe, so having a partner to handle the heavy lifting can be a tremendous relief.

“Our clients really appreciate the work we’re able to do for them,” says Dawn Stolte, PubSEG’s Senior VP of Operations. “This is true not just in LA County, but across the country.”

If you’re interested in learning about the disease case investigation work we’ve done on our clients’ behalf and how we could provide similar services for you, please contact us at 856-240-8117 or email contact@pubseg.com. We’re always excited to learn about how we can help.