FORT WORTH (CBSDFW.COM) – Contact tracing teams are relying more on automated systems and prioritizing the newest cases as they try to keep pace with the spread of the virus.

Tracing teams in Tarrant County are trying to address cases for those who became sick within the past six days, an updated recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention late last month.

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Automated systems are also replacing a large portion of the person-to-person calls tracing started with earlier this year.

As many as 600 people a day are using an online process, starting with a text message that leads to a web-based reporting tool, according to county public health director Vinny Taneja.

“So the whole process become pretty automated,” he said. “We don’t even talk to them. We get everything electronically.”

That’s helped teams who have seen their case load increase by four or five times what it was in the late summer months.

“We used to call people multiple times,” said Mikaela Biavati, a tracing team leader. “But now we’re really only calling them once and leaving them a voicemail, giving them the number to call back, because if we spent our time calling people over and over again, we just wouldn’t finish”

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Biavati is a medical student at Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine at the University of North Texas Science Center in Fort Worth.

She and others work in three hour shifts, contacting positive patients, then answering calls to a hotline, which the county admits has seen long wait times during the rise in positive cases.

“Sometimes the hardest part is getting on the hotline,”she said. “Because we’ll be answering calls on the hotline, but we’ll have 40 people waiting, just to talk to somebody.”

Biavati said she hasn’t noticed a long delay in cases getting to them, and Taneja echoed that, noting many of the long data delays that hampered the tracing process earlier in the pandemic, had disappeared.

Taneja said teams are completing as many as 950 interviews a day, and developing up to 1,200 contacts a day from those cases.

About 140 people are doing that work, with another 50 or more working solely on facility-related outbreaks.

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