Health services not prepared for coronavirus contact tracing with relaxed measures

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Health service GGD is working on scaling up test capacity and its manpower for source and contact investigations so that everyone with coronavirus symptoms can be tested from June onwards, and so that the lowest estimate of necessary Covid-19 contact tracing can be done, Sjaak de Gouw of the GGD said during a briefing in parliament on Thursday, NOS and report.

One of the hard conditions the government's Outbreak Management Team set for lockdown measures to be relaxed, is large-scale testing and contact tracing. 

Approximately 30 thousand tests per month will be required if everyone with coronavirus symptoms need to be tested from June. In May the testing capacity of the GGD was around 17 thousand. The GGD performs bout 80 percent of the coronavirus tests. The rest are done by general practitioners and hospitals and the like. 

The testing is not the biggest concern, however, De Gouw said. Conact tracing is a far bigger job. Performing the lowest estimate of source and contact investigations, will require at the very least 800 full time jobs (FTE). The GGDs have already scaled up from 500 to 670 and is currently training the other 130 FTEs to meet that low limit. 

But that is the best case scenario. In the worst case scenario, the GGDs will need 2,960 FTEs to do only source and contact tracing by September, De Gouw said. And in emergencies, for example in the event of a sudden major coronavirus outbreak, the GGD wants to scale up to 3,200 FTEs within 24 hours. So there is still a long way to go.

A source and contact investigation has to be done with every person who tests positive for the coronavirus. Researchers have to check exactly which other people the patient had contact with, and how much contact for how long. Anyone who spent more than 15 minutes with the patient, and closer than 1.5 meters apart, need to be contacted and warned that they may be infected. They will have to monitor their symptoms and self-isolate. This contact tracing is time and labor intensive, which is why much more manpower is needed.

The GGDs already have contact with many people who are able to do contact tracing, and only need to be specifically trained for the coronavirus scenario, De Gouw said. Volunteers are also being recruited to hep patients and others with the aftercare, for example checking in during self isolation to make sure everything is okay.