FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – January 25, 2022
Cindy Clayton, VDH PIO
VDH Refocuses COVID-19 Investigation Efforts to Target Congregate Settings
Agency Phases Out Contact Tracing Efforts Due to Rapid Spread
(Richmond, Va.) — Today, the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) announced it is changing from attempting to investigate every case of COVID-19 and trace all contacts to focusing on follow-up of outbreaks and cases in high risk settings. This response is more effective when a virus spreads very easily and quickly and many infected people do not have symptoms.
Omicron is now the most common COVID-19 variant and is spreading so quickly, it is not possible or fruitful to track every case. Thanks to effective COVID-19 vaccines, most people getting infected with Omicron have mild illness. However, Omicron is causing a very high number of cases, and due to the sheer number of cases is straining Virginia’s health care system.
“COVID-19 continues to spread across the Commonwealth in high volumes, and Virginians should act quickly when illness is suspected. Please get tested, stay home when you are infectious, and notify your contacts,” said Acting State Health Commissioner Colin M. Greene, MD, MPH.
VDH encourages individuals to take appropriate actions if they suspect or confirm a COVID-19 infection. Information on testing locations and guidance on how individuals can notify their close contacts are available on the VDH website. Tools like COVIDWISE, Virginia’s COVID-19 exposure notification app, allow Virginians with a positive result to anonymously notify others who may have been exposed.
Public health staff will prioritize responding to COVID-19 clusters and outbreaks in long-term care facilities and other congregate settings, healthcare settings, and other high-risk settings, and will focus follow-up with individuals most at risk for negative health effects from COVID-19. VDH will continue to partner with K-12 schools on prevention strategies to reduce spread in schools so schools can remain open and safe.
VDH’s contact tracing program has played a critical role in protecting Virginians when vaccines and treatments were not available and remains an important tool in the COVID-19 response. Since September 2020, public health staff in Virginia have completed over 750,000 case investigations, notified over 400,000 close contacts, and responded to over 6,500 outbreaks. Public health staff provide invaluable support and linkage to services to help people isolate and quarantine safely. VDH’s current staff are still critical in the fight against COVID-19 and are needed to continue with tracking COVID-19 and ensuring an adequate public health response.
While this new direction makes the most sense now, the virus that causes COVID-19 continues to mutate (change genetically). As new variants emerge, the way the virus affects us could change, and Virginia’s prevention strategies would need to be adapted to keep Virginians safe.
The best way to protect yourself from serious illness and hospitalization from COVID-19 is to get vaccinated. If you have not gotten vaccinated or boosted and are eligible, please do so now. Do it for yourself, your family, and your community, including the health care workers we depend on to be there when we truly need emergency care.
To find a vaccine or an appointment at a Community Vaccination Center (CVC) or another location near you, visit vaccinate.virginia.gov or call 877-VAX-IN-VA (877-829-4682, TTY users call 7-1-1). Assistance is available in English, Spanish, and more than 100 other languages. Walk-ins are welcome at CVCs, but appointments are encouraged to avoid extended wait times.