County to join state program for contact tracing

Since the first case of COVID-19 was confirmed in Hays County in mid-March, epidemiologist Eric Schneider has been conducting contact tracing — tracking where the individual had been and whom he or she might have had contact with during the prior 14 days.

Now as the number of cases has risen along with the availability of testing, the county is poised to join a program of the Department of State Health Services. As explained by Ian Harris, also an epidemiologist for the county, it will be a web-based program at no cost to the county that allows health department to communicate with each other.

“We will probably gain more cases in the long run but it is all about getting out in front of the virus,” Harris said. “People who are aware they have been exposed need to take precautions not to expose anyone else.”

Schneider said that, as of 8:30 a.m. Tuesday, six new cases had been reported and the county had seen its fifth fatality — the second in a week’s time. A total of 32 people had been hospitalized with the coronavirus and six remained in the hospital. 

“In April we were averaging 20 new cases per week and in May 25 per week,” Schneider said. In the previous 15 days, he said on June 2, there were 138 new cases. He noted that the virus is on the rise in Travis and Bexar counties as well. “We are still climbing. I’m a little nervous, looking around and seeing only a handful of masks. This has not gone away and it’s not stopping anytime soon. People need to continue to take it seriously. Social distance and go in public only whenever you absolutely need to.”

Answering a question from County Judge Ruben Becerra, Schneider said the rise has correlated with the order by Gov. Gregg Abbott to “reopen” Texas on May 1.

Becerra said he had expected that to happen, reiterating his belief that if the county’s entire population were tested, 50 to 70 percent would be found positive, though many would be asymptomatic.

“We stay cautiously optimistic,” Becerra said.  

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