There seem to be some concerns about the state of Louisiana’s effort to deal with the novel coronavirus pandemic. Some state legislators and others aren’t so sure that people should provide basic information to help with contact tracing, a viable, decades-old method of dealing with public health outbreaks, epidemics and pandemics.
State Rep. Raymond Crews, R-Shreveport, says he’s hearing from constituents who “put a big, big premium on liberty,” meaning they don’t want to provide their names and other information to make it easier for the hundreds of contact tracers hired by the state to trace COVID-19-positive citizens and those with whom they’ve been in contact recently.
State Rep. Jack McFarland, R-Winnfield, says he’s gotten a lot of calls and emails from people who don’t like the idea of contact tracing. He says he’s not comfortable with the approach either. He thinks people are skeptical and, in so many words, perception is reality. “Once people make up their minds, it’s hard to change them,” he told The Associated Press. “The public’s perception is this is big government, an invasion of our privacy.”
The state started the contact tracing efforts with about 70 contact tracers before contracting with companies to quickly ramp up contact tracing with the hiring of nearly 300 more in the last couple of weeks. The contact tracers started their work this past weekend. As explained by Dr. Alex Billioux, who heads the state’s public health office, the goal is to protect people. Theresa Sokol, who leads the state’s epidemiology unit, said no names will be shared, and the contact tracers are obligated to protect individual privacy.
But it seems we have an issue. “Somebody’s got to do a better job of changing that perception or it’s not going to be successful,” said McFarland.
We support contact tracing as a reliable, viable part of the public health effort to deal with this ongoing pandemic. We encourage businesses and citizens to do their part by providing the most basic of information — a name and a phone number, or maybe an email address — to give contact tracers ways to contact each of us who might have been in touch with someone who has tested positive.
We suggest that legislators work with the state to improve public awareness about this important effort.
If contact tracing is to be successful, we need more legislator buy-in, and citizen buy-in as well.