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Maine CDC will end COVID-19 contact tracing

Nirav Shah
Robert F. Bukaty
Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, speaks at a news conference Monday, March 16, 2020, in Augusta, Maine.

The Maine CDC is ending COVID-19 contact tracing for the general public as of Feb. 8. Officials say the decision is driven by the nature of the omicron variant, not the backlog of positive test results the CDC is facing.

Contact tracing was a critical tool to help limit the spread of COVID-19 in the early stages of the pandemic. State CDC contact tracers would call people who were close contacts of others infected with the disease to alert them of their exposure and provide guidance on how to quarantine and monitor for symptoms. But agency director Nirav Shah says the speed at which the omicron variant spreads limits the effectiveness of contact tracing.

"Contact tracing is a race," he says. "It's a race between public health and the virus. Who's going to reach people first?"

Right now, Shah says, omicron will. Because the majority of transmissions occur two days before symptoms even appear and then the first few days after. Moving forward, Shah says people who test positive for COVID-19 should notify close contacts themselves. And close contacts who are not fully vaccinated or boosted should still quarantine.

Shah says the decision to suspend COVID -19 contact tracing for the general public is not related to the backlog of 58,000 positive test results the state CDC is processing and won't alleviate that backlog. He says contact tracing is still in place to control the spread of other infectious diseases, such as STD's, tuberculosis, and hepatitis.