Public health experts urge US to adopt “cluster-busting” to track COVID-19

Amid the recent surges in COVID-19 cases across the U.S., some public health experts are urging the use of a contact tracing strategy known as “cluster-busting,” according to a Nov. 3 Bloomberg report.

The cluster-busting approach, which has been used by officials in Japan and other Asian countries, seeks to find where a person with COVID-19 got infected by tracing their activity and contacts in a backward direction. This differs from the strategy most U.S. officials have been using, in which an infected person’s contacts are traced in a forward direction.

The novel coronavirus often infects people in clusters, so determining where an infected person contracted the virus can help contact tracers better control cases that arise from super-spreader gatherings, according to Bloomberg. Many studies suggest a relatively small percentage of people infected with COVID-19 transmit the virus, so contact tracers could be spending significant amounts of time tracking down people who haven’t contracted the virus.

KJ Seung, MD, an infectious disease expert who works on Massachusetts’ contact tracing efforts, told Bloomberg he adopted the cluster-busting approach this summer after watching a seminar with Japanese researchers. He said his team has been able to discover more clusters at weddings, funerals, parties and bars.

“It’s been eye-opening,” Dr. Seung told Bloomberg. “You can discover more cases, more efficiently.”

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