Tarrant County

Contact Tracers Workload Increases as COVID-19 Cases Rise Across North Texas

Tarrant County has reported more than 1,000 new cases a day on each of the last four days

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The number of COVID-19 cases continues to soar across the state and in Tarrant County.

On Sunday the county reported 1,523 new coronavirus cases, which is two short of last week's record for the highest single-day total.

"It's a big concern, the numbers continue to move up. I keep talking with the hospital executives and they keep saying things are OK and they've got enough staffing and that's always been my top priority," Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley said. He added there were still enough available hospital beds in the county.

According to the Tarrant County Public Health website, 726 of the 5,040 available beds were taken up by COVID-19 patients as of Sunday. That's about a 14% capacity rate.

Whitley said it's a number that has to be monitored because if it exceeds 15% for the region for more than a week, it will "trigger the governor's actions of cutting back on occupancy rate and beginning to shut down businesses, and I hope that he doesn't get to that point."

In the meantime, contact tracers remained busy tracking COVID-19 cases.

“We've been pretty prepared for a higher increase in cases, and that's definitely been the case, thus far," said Kendrick Lim, a second year medical student at the Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine at UNT Health Science Center in Fort Worth.

Lim, 23, started working as a contact tracer in September and before that was a volunteer.

Kendrick Lim, a second year medical student at the Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine at UNT Health Science Center in Fort Worth
Kendrick Lim
Kendrick Lim, a second-year medical student at the Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine at UNT Health Science Center in Fort Worth

Tarrant County and UNTHSC have a partnership that connects dozens of graduate students, like Lim, to help track COVID-19 patients.

Lim, who wants to go into emergency medicine, said tracers work three-hour shifts. From home, they use an online system to call patients and ask patients a series of question to help paint a picture of their symptoms, their whereabouts, and who they've been in contact with.

"The biggest thing is, grabbing the correct information. Asking them like, 'Am I talking to the right person? What symptoms have you been feeling? Do you have any underlying health conditions? Were you hospitalized at any point?'" Lim said. "And then the most extremely important part is, 'Who have you come in contact with? Where have you been, given exposures?' And that's where I think the success with contact tracing comes from."

He said after a series of questions, the information helps contact tracers detect where the string of cases may have started, who to notify if in close contact, all in an effort to slow the spread.

Lim said in the past two weeks they went from around two cases per shift to more than seven. A jump that mirrors what's happening in the county.

One of the trends he's noticed is where people are getting sick, and said it appears to be social gatherings.

"You know going to restaurants, maybe higher risk, going to gyms is higher risk, but it seems like the biggest amount of cases where there's a massive spread between like a group of 20 people comes at social gatherings. Whether that's a weekend event or a holiday, we get together a family gathering, I see those as like the highest risk as well as as well a lot of the cases come from, so that's kind of the biggest trend that we've seen," Kim said.

It's information that local leaders find concerning since Thanksgiving is less than two weeks away.

"I think we've just about reached, if not already passed the July numbers. We're very concerned, especially dealing with the fact we've got the holidays coming up," Whitley said.

Whitley said he reached out to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott's chief of staff a couple days ago and asked that he talk to the governor about "things that we might be able to do," in order to try and minimize the spread. He said he has not heard back.

*Map locations are approximate, central locations for the city and are not meant to indicate where actual infected people live.

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