NEW ORLEANS — Part of the State of Louisiana’s plan to reopen the state is a concept called contact tracing – finding the people who have been in contact with someone who has tested positive for coronavirus, testing those people who have come in contact and isolating or quarantining if necessary.
The plan was presented at Gov. John Bel Edwards' press conference on Friday.
The state’s plan considers people who have been in close contact with someone if they are:
- Household members of the person who tested positive
- Intimate partners of the person who tested positive
- People who have provided care to you in the household or outside
- Anyone who has been in close contact – that is defined as someone who has been within six feet or closer for a time period greater than 15 minutes
Dr. Alex Billioux, the Assistant Secretary of Health for the Louisiana Department of Public Health, said that aggressive contact tracing is crucial to allowing the state to reopen safely.
Billioux said that contact tracers would be asking someone who tested positive to give them a list of people they have come in contact with and where they have been.
When someone is contacted they will be told that they have been identified as someone who may have been in close contact with someone who tested positive for coronavirus. They will not be given a name.
At that time, the person who is contacted will be asked to be tested and isolated if positive and quarantined if they are not positive.
“If you are contacted, we need you to take that seriously or we won’t be able to contain the spread of the virus,” said Billioux.
Edwards first announced his contact tracing plan Thursday with a pledge to hire 700 contact tracers for the state in the coming weeks. Friday, he revised that number to 250, but said the full 700 is still a possibility.
This is especially important for Louisiana, where the state is expected to begin a slow reopening process after initially being one of the hardest-hit states in the country.
Edwards' current stay at home order is set to expire May 16.
He is expected to give an update on whether the state will end the order on time Monday, but Republican state lawmakers have been putting pressure on the Democratic governor to allow businesses to reopen rather than extending the stay at home order again.
Contact tracing workers are trained to call individuals who have tested positive for COVID-19 and create a timeline of how long they have been contagious. They then find out who else has been in close contact with the patient and work to have those people tested and probably quarantined.
An analysis of the country's contact tracing capabilities by NPR shows that Louisiana currently does not meet the guidelines laid out by health experts for how to reopen.
According to the national media outlet's analysis, Louisiana has 70 people employed for contact tracing statewide, with plans to hire 700 more.
With the 700 new contact tracers, the state would be at 16.6 per 100,000 residents. Estimated needs for COVID-19 indicate about 35 people per 100,000 are needed in the state.
The city of New Orleans is planning to help the contact tracers by requiring businesses to keep records of who shops at their stores.
Mayor LaToya Cantrell said earlier this week businesses, when they reopen after her administration's stay at home order expires on May 16, will need to keep a list of every person who enters the store.
Cantrell said this process, along with wearing masks when going out and other changes, was "part of the new normal."
Louisiana has 30,855 confirmed cases and 2,154 deaths attributed to coronavirus as of Friday.