SW Virginia health district suspends COVID contact tracing due to case levels

Local Coronavirus Coverage

Mount Rogers district director ‘sounding the alarm’

MARION, Va. (WJHL) – High and increasing COVID case counts have prompted the Mount Rogers Health District (MRHD) to suspend contact tracing by its staff, and its director advised all school superintendents Thursday to go fully virtual through the end of the semester.

“We hate to have to ask our schools to close because people will not take the necessary steps to stop disease transmission,” MRHD Director Dr. Karen Shelton said in a statement released Thursday evening.

‘It is time for the community to take this threat – a threat to all of us – seriously.’

dr. karen shelton, mount rogers health district director

Newly infected people will be asked to reach out to their contacts and inform them that they need to quarantine. The district covers Washington, Smyth, Grayson, Carroll, Wythe and Bland counties and the independent cities of Bristol and Galax.

“We have hired dozens of case investigators and contact tracers, but transmission is too widespread to be able to continue as we have been,” Dr. Karen Shelton, the district’s director, said in a news release.

Community spread rates are higher than the state average in the News Channel 11 viewing area and even higher to the east.

Those staff will continue to investigate new cases in the district. The release included a link to the district’s COVID-19 surge resources so that people can find information about how to proceed if they’ve been told to isolate or quarantine.

Shelton offered a grim assessment of the situation in the district. Along with most other Southwest Virginia counties in News Channel 11’s viewing area, MRHD has seen quickly increasing community spread in recent weeks as well as some of the state’s highest test positivity rates.

“If you have not been taking COVID-19 seriously, now is the time,” she said, adding that hospital systems and the public health system are being stretched beyond capacity.

“It is time for the community to take this threat – a threat to all of us – seriously,” she said. “Change your behavior. Stay home. Wear a mask. We are terrified of what we will see in the coming weeks and months. A vaccine is on the horizon. Please do your part and help us save lives in our community.”

The release included a link to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines on how health departments experiencing surges should prioritize case investigations.

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