Rock County health authorities say they are so overwhelmed with new coronavirus cases that they can’t track down and notify everyone who might have been exposed.

Neighboring Jefferson County issued a similar statement.

Authorities are asking those affected to do some of the contract tracing themselves and for everyone else to avoid gatherings, wear masks and maintain distance to stop the spread.

The announcement came in a news release Friday afternoon, which stated the county recorded 933 new COVID-19 cases in September.

That number is almost double the previous highest monthly total since the beginning of the pandemic, according to the release.

The number of people sick with COVID-19 increased from 221 to 616 in September, which the Rock County news release calls “overwhelming”

“Despite increased staffing and the assistance of the state contact-tracing team, the number of people to be contacted has now exceeded the capacity of the Rock County Public Health Department,” the release states. “We are no longer able to conduct the same level of contact tracing that we would during a typical outbreak.”

The release says the department is forced to begin “crisis standards of practice as suggested by Dr. Ryan Westergaard,” the chief medical officer and state epidemiologist for communicable diseases.

The release points to a Sept. 15 memo from Westergaard, whose recommendations include:

  • Making fewer attempts to contact people who test positive before classifying them as unreachable.
  • Reducing the number of attempts to reach each client.
  • Giving up on contact tracing after 14 days of an exposure.
  • Helping people who test positive to notify their own contacts and distribute education and instructions about testing and quarantine.
  • Monitoring symptoms of those under quarantine electronically.
  • Reducing frequency of phone contacts during quarantine.
  • Allowing infected people to opt out of active monitoring.
  • Suspending notification of contacts in low-priority categories to maintain timeliness of response to confirmed cases and high-priority contacts.
  • Collaborating with universities, school systems and large employers to develop their own contact-tracing plans.
  • Sending a single letter to organizers of events or gatherings where people were exposed, rather than to those who attended the events.

The release does not clarify which of Westergaard’s recommendations are being used locally, but the health department asks residents who have tested positive to:

  • Answer their phones because a public health nurse or contract tracer may be calling to ask about symptoms and provide guidance and resources.
  • Notify their close contacts, who are people who have had physical contact or were within 6 feet for 15 minutes or more starting two days before symptoms appeared and until they began isolating.
  • Tell contacts to quarantine for at least 14 days and that a nurse or contract tracer will be calling.

The department asks those who have not tested positive or are not close contacts to:

  • Avoid gatherings such as sports competitions, birthdays or tailgate parties.
  • Wear a mask and maintain physical distance. Physical distancing can decrease the risk of spreading or catching the virus.
  • Stay home if sick with symptoms of COVID-19, no matter how mild.
  • Keep track of close contacts. You will be asked about those if you’re positive.