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Linn, Benton officials seek contact tracing support
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Linn, Benton officials seek contact tracing support

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Linn County Commissioner Will Tucker said he is frustrated by people who have tested positive for COVID-19, but refuse to participate in contact tracing, identifying people with whom they have come into contact.

Results have at times been abysmal, Tucker said.

“Sometimes, 50 to 60% of people called won’t answer their phone,” Tucker said. “And many of those who do answer, will hang up after a couple questions and say they won’t provide information.”

Benton County health official Charlie Fautin admits there are issues, but he said they are not systemic.

Tucker said the lack of response could jeopardize the county if case numbers continue to increase and the number of people who provide contact tracing declines.

Linn County could go on the state’s Watch List — Benton County is already there — if case numbers increase and the county cannot provide accurate tracing information.

“One person could have contact with 60, maybe 90 people,” Tucker said. “All of them should be contacted. Two names could turn into 30 or 40 names, ranging from someone they sat near at a picnic table or in the office lunch room.”

Tucker said people are refusing to answer questions because they say it is their right to do so and the whole COVID-19 issue is a “hoax.”

Tucker said the COVID-19 pandemic has become too “political” but it is real and it is serious.

Tucker said the county’s Health Department contact tracers are trying to contact three to four people per day each.

“It takes an amazing amount of time,” Tucker said. “Sometimes it takes five or six attempts to reach someone, and then often they won’t answer questions.”

Fautin said there are issues with tracing: "There is some suspicion and challenges."

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He said the county has not been overwhelmed by the issue.

Fautin said his department has “worked really closely with OSU. There was a rash of cases early on after students returned to school, but we’ve been working closely there.”

Fautin said Oregon State has “reinforced its Code of Conduct that covers more than socialization, parties. It reinforces the importance of cooperating for everyone’s good.”

“OSU put out a lot of information through the Greek system, residence halls, faculty and staff, stressing the importance of tracing,” Fautin said.

Fautin said gathering information is “always a challenge among marginalized groups, those with documentation problems. People are often wary about communicating with government in any shape or form.”

Fautin said the challenge is keeping people on the telephone long enough to insure them their information will not be tied to law enforcement, taxation or immigration.

Linn County Public Health Officer Dr. William Muth noted last week in a letter to County Health Director Todd Noble, “There is no denying the fatigue and frank hardship that many are enduring as the pandemic continues. Some have suggested that COVID-19 is no worse than the flu (influenza), but that is clearly a mistaken notion as COVID-19 is much more lethal than the flu.”

Muth said wearing a mask is “probably the single most important measure that we can all take to prevent the spread of the virus.”

He also emphasized the importance of social distancing, washing one’s hands frequently and staying home if someone is sick.

Muth also emphasized that persons diagnosed with COVID-10 should isolate themselves for several days; those who are exposed should quarantine themselves for 14 days; and those with significant exposure should be tested.

And also important, Muth noted, is “answer the phone.”

“Contact tracing is crucial to attempts at limiting the spread of COVID-19 and is performed by trained Linn County Health Department personnel," he said. "It is performed in a strictly confidential fashion.”

Muth also advised people to avoid carpooling, but if you have to do so, wear a mask and do not attend large gatherings including those events with relatives who “do not live in your immediate home.”

Contact Linn County reporter Alex Paul at 541-812-6114.

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