WASHINGTON (FOX 5 DC) - The skyrocketing cases of coronavirus have taxed testing, hospitals and contact tracing efforts, and in the District a former tracer's tweet pointing out extra-long shifts is prompting questions about whether there are enough employees tasked with notifying people who have been exposed.
A tweet this week from someone saying they worked as a DC contact tracer alleged DC Health tracing employees have been asked to work 12-hour shifts without an offer of overtime. The worker later tweeted they were fired for their tweet.
DC Health says it won't comment on a personnel matter, but that contact tracers are eligible for comp time in lieu of overtime and that the District is following the law.
FOX 5 asked DC Health if the extra hours are indicative of a shortage of contact tracers. In a statement, a spokeswoman said "DC Health has an adequate number of investigators to meet the District’s contact tracing needs at this time."
That does not square with a contact tracing estimator tool designed by researchers from The George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health.
The tool says based on current case numbers, DC would need more than a thousand contact tracers, yet DC Health says there are just 336 active contact tracers, 57 reserve tracers and more than 100 others "supporting our contact tracing program."
This week, a DC man, who asked FOX 5 to protect his privacy, says he alerted DC Health several ways, including in a tweet, that he tested positive for the virus and had not gotten a call from a contact tracer.
It has been more than three days since he got his test results. He said Thursday he had still not heard from DC Health.
One of the researchers behind the GWU tool, Ed Salsberg, says based on current case numbers, DC should aim to bolster its operation.
"I might look at are there some DC city employees that might be temporarily moved to work on contact tracing," Salsberg said.
According to DC's reopening metrics data chart, during the current surge contact tracers on average are still able to attempt to contact 99 percent of all positive cases within a day.
But Salsberg says the gold standard should be to have the ability to reach those peoples' contacts within a day to better facilitate isolation and slow the spread of the disease.
In Virginia, the department of health sent out a news release this week saying some counties would begin prioritizing cases to trace, citing the surge leaving counties too overwhelmed to contact every person who tests positive.