The challenges of contact tracing in San Antonio

Two people who tested positive for COVID-19 share their experiences

SAN ANTONIO – The City of San Antonio has used contact tracing as a tool in the fight against the spread of COVID-19.

Contact tracers get in contact with everyone who tested positive for the virus and find people they were in contact with, but it’s not always that simple.

San Antonio Metro Health officials said if a case was backlogged or not submitted on time, contact tracers may not have been able to reach those infected or may not have the correct information.

Typically, Metro Health said, contact tracers call three times on three different days and times. Case investigators have called up to nine times in some situations.

San Antonio resident Tiffanie Jew said she tested positive for the virus in June.

“Since COVID, now it is hard for me to breathe,” Jew said. “I have like the side effect of like losing my taste, but still, like, randomly, I get headaches.”

The 26-year-old conducted her own contact tracing after not hearing from city officials.

“The doctor over the phone said someone was supposed to be contacting me from the city, and I got no call,” Jew said.

Jew said she called people she was in close contact with, plus stores and restaurants she went to during that time.

San Antonio resident Justine Vine was hospitalized on June 30 after he tested positive for COVID-19.

Vine recovered and was recently released from the hospital. He said Metro Health officials never called him or his wife.

“We never got a call from the government or from anywhere,” Vine said.

Dr. Anita Kurian, with Metro Health, said while the main issue is people not answering the phone or returning calls, there is another roadblock -- full cooperation.

“Even if they pick up the phone and talk to us, sometimes they refuse to give us the list of contacts,” Kurian said.

Metro Health employees who were helping with contact tracing have returned to their original jobs. Last month, state officials took over contact tracing efforts in San Antonio. The city said the calls coming from the state will come from different numbers.

Metro Health said it’s essential to answer the phone to provide a complete investigation.

If you do not answer when a contact tracer calls you, they will leave detailed information to call back. Failure to respond could put others at risk.

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