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Statewide contact tracing could start in May

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — A Indiana University doctor says it’s possible the process of contact tracing could begin within the next two months across the state.

Medical professionals say it depends how the local epidemic goes, but based on how Indiana is looking right now, May or June is reasonable to expect the begin of contact tracing.

It’s easy to understand but will take a lot of work.

“We’re struggling with the logistics of being able to do it and doing it reliably,” Indiana University hospital doctor Cole Beeler said.

First, the health department gets notified of positive cases. Then, they will conduct an interview with the patient and figure out who they have been around. Lastly, they will complete a follow up to monitor symptoms.

“That kind of primes the work that these people get plugged in quicker to healthcare,” Dr. Beeler said. “They know that this might be happening but it also limits their exposure to other vulnerable patients.”

The cycle is repeated with each new diagnosis.

“You start building webs of patients interactions so that you can understand where your local hot spots are and what type of social interactions are leading to new cases,” Dr. Beeler said.

One patient’s information could take a day to find and make connections.

Dr. Beeler says manpower is the only way to get this done.

“If we were to start it now, it would probably be an insurmountable amount of work we are seeing but it’s really hard to know what it will look like in another few weeks,” he said.

It’s a topic students at Butler University are seeing right before their eyes.

“It doesn’t happen often where my students are learning about a concept in the real life and those concepts are playing out side by side,” Butler University College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences Assistant Professor Ogbonnaya Omenka said. “They are literally watching the case study unfold.”

But it’s a concept with three challenges.

“People may not honestly remember of what they have done in recent days,” Omenka said.

There’s a cultural component.

“Lack of trust and fear in the health system,” Omenka said. “Any program or activity that is linked with the government.”

There’s a political aspect. The timeline for re-opening varies from state to state.

“Asking people to self quarantine after being exposed to a case might actually run contrary to the same people who want to be let free to exercise their individual liberties,” Omenka said.

The idea of an app on your smartphone could help with contact tracing.

But there are privacy concerns.

“It is location identifying services and I think there is a certain amount of privacy that needs to be considered when deciding who should use this and when,” Dr. Beeler said.

For now, health officials say social distancing is key, but there’s one question.

Could contact tracing help open the doors to society sooner?