Publish date:

Contact tracing in Minnesota has blossomed into a gargantuan task

Thousands of contact tracers are needed to handle the volume of cases.

The number of people needed to carry out contact tracing for COVID-19 patients has quickly mushroomed from hundreds to thousands in a matter of a couple weeks. 

Just two weeks ago, state leaders estimated that around 750 contact tracers would be needed to track Minnesotans falling ill with the disease caused by SARS-CoV-2, otherwise known as the new coronavirus. But with testing capacity increasing, so have the number of positive results. 

That development has seen the state's number of confirmed cases skyrocket from around 5,100 a week ago to more than 8,500 today. More cases means more contact tracing. But that's not the sole reason for the rising need.

"The numbers have increased significantly from our prior estimates, partly as we have learned more about the effects of asymptomatic spread and therefore the need to test more broadly," said Jan Malcolm, commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH). 

Malcolm also attributes the tracing demand to more employers looking to have employees tested to ensure a safe return to the workplace, namely at meat production facilities where there have been outbreaks in numerous greater Minnesota cities. 

Language barriers have also slowed the investigation process. 

"We had been doing all our follow up within 24 hours of receiving a report. That has slowed in part because of the volume and in part because it's taking longer to do our contact investigations," said Kris Ehresmann, director of the Infectious Disease Epidemiology, Prevention, and Control Division at the MDH. 

She said the "vast majority" of their cases are for patients whose first language isn't English. Interpreters are being used along with giving non-English speaking patients access to a language line to receive messages from the MDH. 

"Investigations are very thorough," Ehresmann explained, noting that a contact tracer will detail the onset of a patient's symptoms, their activities, and who they've made contact with. They also spend a significant amount of time answering questions from patients.

Once a person tests positive for the virus, a contact tracer will attempt to conduct an interview. If they're able to identify people who've been in contact with the infected patient, they can warn them so those contacts are able to quarantine and help avoid further spread. 

As of Monday, the MDH had 150 case investigators and they're adding another 160 this week, according to Ehresmann. Once Minnesota gets to 4,200 contact tracers, it'll be nearly half of what Wuhan had. Wuhan, the Chinese city where the virus was discovered, has approximately twice as many residents as Minnesota. 

Next Up

Tanner Morgan/Gopher Football

Morgan's resurgence, Nebraska's miscues help Gophers hold on

The Gophers quarterback threw a pair of touchdowns in a 30-23 victory.

Tina Smith

Sen. Tina Smith warns Dems she may not vote for budget bill if climate plan dropped

This comes amid a White House effort to get its "Build Back Better" plan passed.

Pixabay - emergency room ambulance hospital

St. Paul man dies six days after crash on I-94

The Hennepin County Medical Examiner has identified the man as David Rodney Hardaway.

police lights squad car dark - Unsplash

Double murder in northeastern Minnesota, suspect kills himself after chase

The suspect died at the scene from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

chaska school fight

Anti-masker involved in school board meeting fight charged with assault

It happened last month at an Eastern Carver County Schools hearing.

Marcus Foligno

Marcus Foligno throws hands, scores game-winning goal in Wild's opener

The Wild forward scored with 7.2 seconds left to beat Anaheim.

Screen Shot 2021-10-15 at 10.01.55 PM

Large police presence at Emagine Willow Creek movie theater in Plymouth

There are few details at this stage as to what has happened.

Maple Grove Police Department

Maple Grove-based businessman convicted of fatally shooting wife

Wiseman owns properties in both Minnesota, Nevada and China.

betty and earls biscuits facebook

Jason Matheson's biscuit shop to briefly close ahead of relaunch

Betty & Earl's will shut down for two weeks before reopening under a new name.

Simon Merino Go Fund Me

Worker dies in forklift accident at paper recycling business

The victim was described as a loving father of two who was devoted to his church.

rosie means - go fund me

Authorities ID woman killed by hit-and-run driver who ran red light

A fundraiser was created to support the family after the "sudden and senseless loss."

Prior Lake Football

Watch: Prior Lake stuns Rosemount with last-second hook and ladder

The Lakers dusted off an old favorite to get a victory on Thursday night.


coronavirus, covid-19

North Dakota is having people do their own COVID-19 contact tracing

Health officials have said timely contact tracing is a key component in preventing the spread of COVID-19.

covid-19, coronavirus

As COVID-19 cases surge, Itasca County suspends contact tracing

Health officials instead will focus on high-risk settings, like schools and long-term care facilities.

covid-19, coronavirus

MDH: 1/3 of people with COVID-19 refusing to help contact tracers

The estimate was provided Monday by a member of the state health department.


MN health officials will text COVID-19 positive cases, close contacts

The hope is that if they get a text first then more people will answer their phone when the health department calls.

coronavirus testing

Don't want to talk to a contact tracer? MN debuts online option after positive test

The department says the survey will allow its staff to keep track of more cases at a faster pace

coronavirus, Iowa

Increasing clusters of COVID-19 traced to workplaces, social settings

As of Monday, 1,063 of the state's 2,158 ICU beds were occupied.

coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, covid-19

Here is Minnesota's COVID-19 update for Thursday, July 16

The positive cases are the result of 14,715 tests.