Ionia Co. to ramp up contact tracing after spike in cases


IONIA, Mich. (WOOD) — Rural places like Ionia County is seeing some of its highest rates of COVID-19.

Now, the county is turning to technology to help slow the infections down.

The new system starts Monday, where everyone who tests positive for COVID-19 in Ionia County will get a text message contact-tracing survey.

“We have so many people right now that are close contacts and it’s hard for the state and for the local health departments to make those calls on a daily basis,” said Ken Bowen, a health officer with the Ionia County Health Department.

He says Ionia County’s positivity rate is over 8%, posting between 50 and 100 new cases a day, and more than 900 cases since the start of October. With all of that in mind, a solution was needed for faster contact tracing.

“I do expect it to do some good because right now, we’re just at a point where we’re behind,” said Bowen. “We just don’t have the staff to call everybody that we need to call.”

The new system, which includes text and email, is trying to narrow the spread with a simple set of questions regarding probable place and time of infection.

Another recent system is the restaurant mandate from Nov. 2, which requires guests to leave their contact information behind.

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services says it has not received any information about individuals needing to be contacted using those lists, but local health departments would be more directly involved.

“It has helped in some cases because we do continue to see positive cases pop up in restaurants among restaurant staff, amongst restaurant patrons,” he said. “It’s always helpful to know who to reach out to in those situations where otherwise we would have no clue.”

Those under 18 and those older than 65 will still get a phone call to the place of residence.

He says people should not wait to act if they’re waiting on test results. People should assume they need to quarantine for 14 days.

“We have a lot of concerns that people are positive when we’re not able to reach out to them, instruct them, answer their questions,” Bowen said. “And this will allow us to reach out to everyone.”

If you do not have access to a cell phone or email, you can always reach out to the Ionia County Health Department directly at 616.527.5341.

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