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Analysis Finds Only Seven States Have Adequate Contact Tracing Capacity; Okla. Not One Of Them

Chris Polansky
Dr. Bruce Dart (at lectern), head of the Tulsa Health Department, at a press conference on Wednesday, June 17th.

A new nationwide survey estimates that only seven states in the country are currently adequately staffed with contact tracers to manage the novel coronavirus.

Oklahoma is not one of them.

The NPR analysis found that only Alaska, Massachusetts, Montana, New York, Oregon, Vermont and West Virginia have enough active contact tracers. Six other states have enough if counting reserve staff. 

"Thirty-seven states do not have enough contact tracers, according to NPR's analysis," the report from Selena Simmons-Duffin reads. 

In Tulsa County, which has the most confirmed COVID-19 infections in Oklahoma, the top public health official has expressed grave concern over local tracing capacity, especially given the expected arrival of tens of thousands of visitors from around the country for President Trump's reelection rally this Saturday.

"The question is are we concerned about being overwhelmed and really doing our job of contact tracing and case investigation. And yes, I am, I'll be honest," said Dr. Bruce Hart, head of the Tulsa Health Department, at a press conference on Wednesday. "Our staff right now, today we reported 96 cases, which is our highest report since this started. Our staff are overwhelmed."

"They haven't had time away. And you know what it's like when you're working seven days a week for months, if you can imagine," Dart said. "Plus, they care so deeply about this community and people who live here, and they want to protect everyone. Frankly, not only are they emotionally and physically starting to wear down, I think their hearts are hurting, as well."

Dart appeared at a press conference with Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum, Tulsa Police Chief Wendell Franklin, and Tulsa County Commissioner Karen Keith. 

Dart repeated his recommendation that the rally be postponed because of its potential to cause a major increase in infections and deaths, but, speaking directly after Dart, Bynum said the rally is a "tremendous honor" and that he would not attempt to prevent or postpone it.

Dart said it will be extremely difficult to do proper tracing following the rally given the fact that attendees will be visiting from and then returning to states across the country, and that Tulsa County will only be able to perform full tracing on county residents who test positive for the novel coronavirus.

The state of Oklahoma claims to currently employ "approximately 350 trained contact tracers currently working active cases." Dart says there are 60 tracers working in Tulsa County.

The Associated Press, reporting on the Oklahoma State Department of Health numbers, reported Wednesday that "Tulsa County has displaced Oklahoma County as the state’s leading COVID-19 hotspot with 1,825 cases to Oklahoma County’s 1,754 cases."

"A record-setting number of new COVID-19 cases were reported Wednesday in Oklahoma for the second consecutive day, state health officials said."

"Officials reported 259 new cases of the illness caused by the novel coronavirus, beating the previous record of 229 new cases reported. The total reported Wednesday brought the total number of cases reported in the state during the outbreak to 8,904. The actual number of people who have contracted the virus is likely higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected and not feel sick."

Chris joined Public Radio Tulsa as a news anchor and reporter in April 2020. He’s a graduate of Hunter College and the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism, both at the City University of New York.
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