Congress shoveled out billions to boost contact tracing. It may have come too late.

“We still think this is an important component in monitoring the pandemic,” said John Dunn, Tennessee’s state epidemiologist. “We want to keep our ability to respond appropriately.”

States have been campaigning for more resources since the pandemic began last March, but the money never came in sufficient quantities to tackle the kind of programs needed to deal with the summer and autumn floods of the pandemic. Nor has there been a national strategy for testing or tracing that raises questions about whether a top-down state approach is even possible.

“There is a discussion about whether we should just create a social norm so people can do contact tracing themselves,” said Marcus Plescia, chief medical officer of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials. “We may need to completely rethink contact tracing.”

For now, the officers are focused on the immediate task. Only 20 percent of Americans are fully immunized, 30 percent of Americans remain reluctant to vaccinate, and more contagious strains are proliferating across the country.

“We still think this is an important component in monitoring the pandemic,” said John Dunn, Tennessee’s state epidemiologist. “We want to keep our ability to respond appropriately.”

As a candidate, Biden pledged to hire at least 100,000 public health workers and established strict contact tracing as a key element of his plan to reduce the spread of the virus.

The need has been underscored by the 20 percent increase in daily case numbers since mid-March and the governors of both parties rushing to ease public health restrictions. As students return to face-to-face lessons, youth sports, and other group activities, public health experts have emphasized that contact tracing is especially important in tracking outbreaks in children and the unvaccinated, especially in congregational settings.

However, health workers can only follow up if they are informed of a person’s positive test result. This is This cannot be guaranteed as faster home tests are coming to the market without reporting the results to public health authorities.

“It’s not a pregnancy test,” said Lori Freeman, executive director of the National Association of County and City Health Officials. “We have to care what people do with their results and how we can alleviate this disease.”

Freeman and other public health officials say they also remain in the dark as to when the $ 48 billion promised under the US rescue plan will arrive and whether there will be any restrictions on their use.

“The reality is not yet on the road as to what these resources will be at the local Department of Health level and what flexibility they will have to use these resources to meet their particular needs,” Freeman said.

A spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services said the Biden administration is sending an additional $ 100 million to the country’s Medical Reserve Corps and a separate $ 2.25 billion to local health departments specifically for testing and tracing for high-risk and provides underserved populations.

Several state officials said they hope to put some of the money into the kind of public health infrastructure that will prove useful even after the pandemic. Public funding for health departments has been decimated in the past few decades, and many local officials fearful of cliff funding are trying to improve their surveillance skills.

Dunn, the Tennessee epidemiologist, said some of the funds could go to state laboratories to help them sequence viruses, including variants of the coronavirus.

David Scrase, the New Mexico health secretary, said newly trained public health workers beyond contact tracing could reach people who are reluctant to vaccinate.

“The news will change,” he said. “I see that it is becoming more assertive and more targeted.”

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