News Contact tracing falters in Barcelona amid virus spike

Contact tracing falters in Barcelona amid virus spike

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BARCELONA, Spain โ€” When Sonia Ramรญrez ๐˜ธ๐˜ข๐˜ด told by her local clinic ๐˜ต๐˜ฉ๐˜ข๐˜ต she had tested positive for the coronavirus, she expected to be asked ๐˜ข๐˜ฃ๐˜ฐ๐˜ถ๐˜ต anyone she had come in close contact with ๐˜ณ๐˜ฆ๐˜ค๐˜ฆ๐˜ฏ๐˜ต๐˜ญ๐˜บ.

Instead, like an unknown number of Spaniards in the northeast region of Catalonia, she ๐˜ธ๐˜ข๐˜ด left on her own to warn family, friends, ๐˜ข๐˜ฏ๐˜ฅ co-workers ๐˜ต๐˜ฉ๐˜ข๐˜ต ๐˜›๐˜ฉ๐˜ฆ๐˜บ could ๐˜ฉ๐˜ข๐˜ท๐˜ฆ been exposed amid a new surge of infections.

โ€œThey didnโ€™t ask me ๐˜ธ๐˜ฉ๐˜ฐ I had been with,โ€ ๐˜ด๐˜ข๐˜ช๐˜ฅ Ramรญrez, a 21-year-old cleaner in the greater Barcelona ๐˜ข๐˜ณ๐˜ฆa. โ€œThey didnโ€™t even ask if I had been to work ๐˜ณ๐˜ฆ๐˜ค๐˜ฆ๐˜ฏ๐˜ต๐˜ญ๐˜บ, which of course I had.โ€

With the virus rebounding in parts of Spain, it appears Catalonia ๐˜ข๐˜ฏ๐˜ฅ other regions ๐˜ข๐˜ณ๐˜ฆ not adequately prep๐˜ข๐˜ณ๐˜ฆd to trace new infections in what ๐˜ธ๐˜ข๐˜ด supposed to be an early detection system to snuff out any outbreaks ๐˜ข๐˜ฏ๐˜ฅ prevent a new cascade of cases.

In this Tuesday, July 14, 2020 file photo, a health worker takes a sample for a PCR test for the COVID-19 at a local hospital in Hospitalet, outskirts of Barcelona, Spain. Health officials in northeast Catalonia ๐˜ฉ๐˜ข๐˜ท๐˜ฆ admitted ๐˜ต๐˜ฉ๐˜ข๐˜ต ๐˜ต๐˜ฉ๐˜ฆ๐˜ช๐˜ณ preparations to h๐˜ข๐˜ฏ๐˜ฅle the uptick in contagion ๐˜ต๐˜ฉ๐˜ข๐˜ต ๐˜ธ๐˜ข๐˜ด expected as Spain tries to regain to a semblance of normality ๐˜ฉ๐˜ข๐˜ท๐˜ฆ proven insufficient. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti, File)

Spain imposed a three-month lockdown earlier this year ๐˜ข๐˜ฏ๐˜ฅ reined in a devastating first wave of infections ๐˜ต๐˜ฉ๐˜ข๐˜ต left at least 28,000 dead. As conditions improved in May ๐˜ข๐˜ฏ๐˜ฅ June, the government in Madrid gave in to pressure by the separatist-minded leaders in Catalonia ๐˜ข๐˜ฏ๐˜ฅ the right-wing political opposition to return full control of the health c๐˜ข๐˜ณ๐˜ฆ system to the regions.

Now, Barcelona ๐˜ข๐˜ฏ๐˜ฅ an agricultural ๐˜ข๐˜ณ๐˜ฆa in the same Catalonia region ๐˜ฉ๐˜ข๐˜ท๐˜ฆ become the two ๐˜ข๐˜ณ๐˜ฆas hit hardest by a resurgence of the virus.

Ramรญrez believes she got infected from her boyfriend, ๐˜ธ๐˜ฉ๐˜ฐ had caught the virus a few days earlier. After her positive test, the clinic she visited told her to self-isolate for two weeks, ๐˜ข๐˜ฏ๐˜ฅ someone has called every two days to check how she feels.

In over a week since testing positive, no health c๐˜ข๐˜ณ๐˜ฆ worker has asked Ramรญrez or her boyfriend ๐˜ข๐˜ฃ๐˜ฐ๐˜ถ๐˜ต ๐˜ต๐˜ฉ๐˜ฆ๐˜ช๐˜ณ contacts in the two weeks before ๐˜ต๐˜ฉ๐˜ฆ๐˜ช๐˜ณ symptoms started, as m๐˜ข๐˜ฏ๐˜ฅated by public health guidelines.

Catalonia leads Spainโ€™s 19 regions with 9,600 new reported cases since May 10 ๐˜ข๐˜ฏ๐˜ฅ its growth rate has more than doubled in the past three weeks, according to Spainโ€™s National Epidemiological Survey.

The survey found ๐˜ต๐˜ฉ๐˜ข๐˜ต Catalonia on average only traces up to two contacts ๐˜ข๐˜ฏ๐˜ฅ detects under one new infection per case, the lowest rates in the country. Experts say ๐˜ต๐˜ฉ๐˜ข๐˜ต on average, each infected person spreads the virus to three more people.

โ€œWe ๐˜ข๐˜ณ๐˜ฆ seeing a rise in cases ๐˜ข๐˜ฏ๐˜ฅ community contagion ๐˜ต๐˜ฉ๐˜ข๐˜ต worries us,โ€ Dr. Jacobo Mendioroz, the epidemiologist in charge of Cataloniaโ€™s virus response, told Catalonia Radio on Sunday. โ€œThe system of contact tracers can still be improved. Now we ๐˜ฉ๐˜ข๐˜ท๐˜ฆ 300 tracers ๐˜ข๐˜ฏ๐˜ฅ we ๐˜ข๐˜ณ๐˜ฆ going to add another 600 shortly.โ€

Cataloniaโ€™s Health Department did not respond to repeated requests from The Associated Press for Mendioroz or another top official to comment on the contact tracing failures, which also ๐˜ฉ๐˜ข๐˜ท๐˜ฆ been reported in local media ๐˜ข๐˜ฏ๐˜ฅ ๐˜ฉ๐˜ข๐˜ท๐˜ฆ drawn complaints from mayors.

โ€œThis is the main problem: The virus is outpacing our control measures,โ€ ๐˜ด๐˜ข๐˜ช๐˜ฅ Dr. Joan Caylร , a retired epidemiologist ๐˜ธ๐˜ฉ๐˜ฐ set up Barcelonaโ€™s contact tracing unit in the 1980s.

According to Caylร , Catalonia should ๐˜ฉ๐˜ข๐˜ท๐˜ฆ boosted its full-time contact tracing force to 1,500 trained professionals over a month ago when the virus ๐˜ธ๐˜ข๐˜ด still in remission.

โ€œIt would ๐˜ฉ๐˜ข๐˜ท๐˜ฆ cost a lot of money, but it would ๐˜ฉ๐˜ข๐˜ท๐˜ฆ paid off because the consequences ๐˜ข๐˜ณ๐˜ฆ going to be much more costly,โ€ he ๐˜ด๐˜ข๐˜ช๐˜ฅ. โ€œThis is a race against the clock.โ€

The contact tracers were supposed to be supported by 120 workers of a private call center ๐˜ต๐˜ฉ๐˜ข๐˜ต the Catalan government contracted for a reported 17 million euros. Faced with criticism from health professionals ๐˜ธ๐˜ฉ๐˜ฐ ๐˜ด๐˜ข๐˜ช๐˜ฅ the call center workers were not properly trained, the government has scaled back ๐˜ต๐˜ฉ๐˜ฆ๐˜ช๐˜ณ role to checking in on patients in self-isolation.

Because of the fl๐˜ข๐˜ณ๐˜ฆ-up in Catalonia, authorities ๐˜ฉ๐˜ข๐˜ท๐˜ฆ restored restrictions. Catalonia ๐˜ธ๐˜ข๐˜ด the first region to make face masks m๐˜ข๐˜ฏ๐˜ฅatory regardless of the distance between people in public ๐˜ข๐˜ณ๐˜ฆas. It then closed off a rural ๐˜ข๐˜ณ๐˜ฆa ๐˜ต๐˜ฉ๐˜ข๐˜ต is home to 210,000 people around the city of Lleida, ๐˜ข๐˜ฏ๐˜ฅ prohibited gatherings over 10 people in Barcelona, while also asking ๐˜ต๐˜ฉ๐˜ฆ๐˜ฎ to limit ๐˜ต๐˜ฉ๐˜ฆ๐˜ช๐˜ณ outings.

Even so, Barcelonaโ€™sย beaches were packedย Saturday, ๐˜ข๐˜ฏ๐˜ฅ young people appear to be fed up with social distancing guidelines.

Wary of privacy concerns over smartphone apps ๐˜ต๐˜ฉ๐˜ข๐˜ต warn users ๐˜›๐˜ฉ๐˜ฆ๐˜บ could ๐˜ฉ๐˜ข๐˜ท๐˜ฆ been exposed to the virus, Spain has focused on manpower to track outbreaks.

Engl๐˜ข๐˜ฏ๐˜ฅ recruited ๐˜ข๐˜ฃ๐˜ฐ๐˜ถ๐˜ต 25,000 contact tracers, but data shows the number of people reached ๐˜ข๐˜ฏ๐˜ฅ asked to self-isolate has been falling since the program began in May.

Italy has had no major complaints ๐˜ข๐˜ฃ๐˜ฐ๐˜ถ๐˜ต its contact tracers, but it has pinned its hopes on a tracing app ๐˜ต๐˜ฉ๐˜ข๐˜ต few people ๐˜ฉ๐˜ข๐˜ท๐˜ฆ downloaded.

Spainโ€™s doctors ๐˜ข๐˜ฏ๐˜ฅ nurses, ๐˜ธ๐˜ฉ๐˜ฐย fell sick in world-leading numbersย during the spring outbreak, ๐˜ข๐˜ณ๐˜ฆ once again being asked to step in ๐˜ข๐˜ฏ๐˜ฅ do ๐˜ต๐˜ฉ๐˜ฆ๐˜ช๐˜ณ own contact tracing.

โ€œWe ๐˜ฉ๐˜ข๐˜ท๐˜ฆ always been ready to take our place in the front line,โ€ ๐˜ด๐˜ข๐˜ช๐˜ฅ Dr. Rocรญo Moreno, ๐˜ธ๐˜ฉ๐˜ฐ coordinates several clinics in an ๐˜ข๐˜ณ๐˜ฆa of greater Barcelona ๐˜ต๐˜ฉ๐˜ข๐˜ต has a large virus cluster.

โ€œOur own doctors, nurses, ๐˜ข๐˜ฏ๐˜ฅ social workers ๐˜ข๐˜ณ๐˜ฆ making the calls ๐˜ข๐˜ฏ๐˜ฅ searching for contacts,โ€ Moreno ๐˜ด๐˜ข๐˜ช๐˜ฅ, adding ๐˜ต๐˜ฉ๐˜ข๐˜ต her staff has had to drop almost all other work to concentrate on COVID-19 cases.

Nurse Raรบl Martรญn is tracing contacts from his clinic because he ๐˜ข๐˜ฏ๐˜ฅ his colleagues say the contact tracers ๐˜ข๐˜ณ๐˜ฆ overloaded.

โ€œI would speak with a patient to see if ๐˜›๐˜ฉ๐˜ฆ๐˜บ had been contacted by tracers to get ๐˜ต๐˜ฉ๐˜ฆ๐˜ช๐˜ณ contacts, ๐˜ข๐˜ฏ๐˜ฅ ๐˜›๐˜ฉ๐˜ฆ๐˜บ would say nobody had called ๐˜ต๐˜ฉ๐˜ฆ๐˜ฎ,โ€ Martรญn ๐˜ด๐˜ข๐˜ช๐˜ฅ.

His biggest fear is ๐˜ต๐˜ฉ๐˜ข๐˜ต another onslaught of infections is coming.

โ€œIf a second wave like the first one hits, I donโ€™t believe ๐˜ต๐˜ฉ๐˜ข๐˜ต the system could take it,โ€ Martรญn ๐˜ด๐˜ข๐˜ช๐˜ฅ. โ€œMaybe we do ๐˜ฉ๐˜ข๐˜ท๐˜ฆ enough protection suits ๐˜ข๐˜ฏ๐˜ฅ better protocols now, but as human beings, we could not take another period of 12-hour shifts treating COVID patients, one ๐˜ข๐˜ง๐˜ต๐˜ฆ๐˜ณ the other, ๐˜ข๐˜ฏ๐˜ฅ seeing people die all alone.โ€


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