DC reveals more insight to contact tracing, considers hybrid return to schools in November

A D.C. health official urged more residents who tested positive for coronavirus to better help contact tracers complete necessary interviews within three days.

“We know that we are better able to get to people who need to be quarantined if we can complete interviews for new positive cases within three days,” said D.C. Health Director LaQuandra Nesbitt during a news briefing Thursday.

Nesbitt said that overall most interviews are completed, and that D.C. has a “gold star” otherwise in contact tracing, but that the interviews need to be completed within a shorter period of time.

Only 58.9% of positive cases with a completed interview happened within three days, according to D.C. data. Around 37.3% of people who have newly tested positive are giving their close contact information, and on average, they provide information for one person.

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Looking for more information? D.C., Maryland and Virginia are each releasing more data every day. Visit their official sites here: Virginia | Maryland | District of Columbia

Nesbitt said it was important for contact tracers to complete interviews within three days so they can “box it in,” which meant containing the spread of the virus.

She said the lag wasn’t an issue unique to D.C., and that she understood that some people may be hesitant to disclose due to privacy concerns and fear of stigma in their community.

Nesbitt assured that contact tracers are not naming people when they’re informing close contacts about possible exposure. But it is important to inform those close contacts about possible exposure just in case they could be asymptomatic carriers.

She hopes this new public data about contact tracing in the District can shed more insight into the ongoing pandemic fight.

D.C. officials also said they are working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and updating its data systems to prepare for the possible roll out of a coronavirus vaccine.

It’s also seeking to identify high-priority groups who would need the vaccine the most.

Nesbitt said the District has received guidance from the federal government. The District is also looking at developing public-private partnerships.

On Wednesday, the CDC sent a planning document to U.S. states, territories and some big cities about distributing a vaccine free of cost when one is available.

Top health officials said that even if a vaccine was proved safe and effective by late this year, it would still go first to health care workers, first responders, and others at high risk, and the broader public would likely get access sometime in late spring or summer of 2021.

Another complication with distribution would be multiple doses over time and storage, and officials are concerned states may need additional funding to keep up with distribution demands.

Leading health officials and state lawmakers in Maryland are getting ready for at least six to eight months before a vaccine can be widely distributed in a best-case scenario.

Nesbitt said the District is also planning for flu season and hopes more people will get vaccinated this season.

Also during the Thursday briefing, Mayor Muriel Bowser said she would like to see D.C. Public Schools institute a hybrid learning plan for the semester starting Nov. 9 for the second term.

“We’re planning for a hybrid return to school,” Bowser said.

D.C. Public Schools had an online-only start last month, as did many area universities.

Bowser said more than 26,000 devices have been distributed to help students with virtual learning.

But she stressed that despite classes being online, attendance is still important; Monday’s “in-seat attendance” was only 85% compared to the same time last year, when it was 92%.

So, the goal for the second term, Bowser said, is to have a hybrid of in-person and virtual learning.

D.C. reported 47 new positive coronavirus cases Thursday for a total of 14,790. Two more residents have lost their life to the virus. The death toll stands at 619.

Track’s D.C.’s coronavirus date online.

Below are maps of coronavirus cases by ward, neighborhood and community spread.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Teta Alim

Teta Alim is a Digital Editor at WTOP. Teta's interest in journalism started in music and moved to digital media.

Will Vitka

William Vitka is a Digital Writer/Editor for WTOP.com. He's been in the news industry for over a decade. Before joining WTOP, he worked for CBS News, Stuff Magazine, The New York Post and wrote a variety of books—about a dozen of them, with more to come.

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