Johnson County continues contact tracing amid increased transmission of delta variant

Despite high vaccination rates in Johnson County, the Public Health Department has maintained its contact tracing to respond to an increase in delta variant cases.


Contributed photo of Sam Jarvis.

Anthony Neri, News Reporter

The Johnson County Public Health Department has maintained a significant number of its contact tracers to reduce transmission of the highly transmissible delta variant.

Despite the high vaccination rates in Johnson County, Sam Jarvis, Johnson County Public Health community health manager, said contact tracing and other “mitigation measures” are as essential for everyone’s safety as before, because people who are vaccinated can transmit the variant.

“… If you are a person who’s taking care of someone who’s immunocompromised or at-risk, at one time, after being vaccinated your risk was a lot lower, tremendously lower, of infecting that person,” he said. “Now that’s less the case and that’s why we’re seeing universal masking recommendations.”

Even in cases of mild illness, Jarvis said it is important to notify a doctor, so contact tracing can begin for the benefit of loved ones and community, especially since Johnson County is a high transmission area.

Jennifer Miller, a disease prevention specialist for the department, said at its highest point the department contained roughly 50 contact tracers, a number that has since dwindled to 17 to 20 staff members as COVID-19 cases decreased and vaccinations increased in Johnson County this summer. 

Miller said the county’s staff has seen the effectiveness of contact tracing firsthand. 

“I’ve seen people go into quarantine and then end up testing positive and now they didn’t infect anybody else,” she said. “So, as long as it can be done in a timely fashion, it is still an effective tool.”

Johnson County tracers, who collect information on the recently infected and those near them, contact immediate family members first. 

Miller said contact tracers also inform schools and workplaces to identify who has been in close proximity to someone with COVID-19 and suggest that they get tested.

The Des Moines Register reported on Aug. 20 that Polk County, Iowa’s most populous county, has stopped contacting people outside of the households of COVID-positive patients and are scaling back their tracing practices. 

Jarvis said it’s possible that his department’s staff will increase in size because of the delta variant. 

“So certainly nothing is off the table, and we’ll continue to assess capacity as we go on, but throughout the entire pandemic our goal is to be as scalable as needed,” he said. “As cases increase, we need to scale our operations and make sure we are able to meet that demand.”

Johnson County has a COVID-19 positivity case rate of 7 percent, according to the Iowa Department of Public Health’s 7-day COVID-19 average. 

Data visualization by Kelsey Harrell/The Daily Iowan

Johnson County is experiencing high transmission, Jarvis said, so CDC recommendations still apply.

“Eventually, like many other counties, we began to transition to substantial and high-risk transmission largely due to the delta variant and how contagious it is,” Jarvis said. 

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