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Letters to the Editor: L.A. County contract tracing has saved lives, but employers need to do more

Barbara Ferrer
Barbara Ferrer, Los Angeles County’s director of public health, speaks at a news conference on May 1, 2018.
(Los Angeles Times)

To the editor: Contact tracing is not meant to be an omniscient early-detection system. As public health departments across the country know, that perfect system does not yet exist in our battle against COVID-19. (“L.A. County’s tracing team repeatedly failed to detect coronavirus outbreaks at workplaces,” July 31)

Instead, this system depends, first, on dozens of independent labs reporting test results quickly and accurately, and then on people who have been infected or exposed responding to phone calls from strangers and providing highly personal information that many fear will endanger their livelihoods.

But even more important, identifying potential outbreaks requires that responsible business owners report to us whenever they have three or more cases. This is a community effort, and our business partners have a social and moral responsibility to protect their workers and cooperate with the Department of Public Health. It’s not just the right thing to do; it’s a legal requirement, and it’s disappointing your article failed to emphasize the critical reliance we have on businesses living up to this responsibility.

Through contact tracing, tens of thousands of L.A. County residents have been helped. More than 199,000 orders for isolation or quarantine have been issued, and we have investigated outbreaks at hundreds of businesses, saving hundreds of lives.

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We are working to enhance the county’s contact tracing program, recognizing that fewer than half of the people we reach feel comfortable sharing extremely personal information. That’s why we’re partnering with community-based organizations to build trust with people afraid of losing their housing, their jobs and their relationships. We’re also instituting an innovative incentive program.

We are transparent about contact tracing, and our residents can see for themselves on our website how we’re doing when it comes to reaching COVID-19-positive people and their contacts.

We have also been clear that contact tracing is a valuable tool for slowing the spread of COVID-19, but it cannot and should not be expected to single-handedly stop outbreaks.

We are grateful to everyone who is heeding our orders, who is responding to contact tracers and who is doing their part.

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Barbara Ferrer, Los Angeles

The writer is director of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.


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