New app, quicker test results help contact tracing efforts
Special to The Union
Contact tracing has been one of the public health tools in the fight against coronavirus. To help curb the spread, officials have been working endlessly to track and monitor how the virus spreads through communities.
Contact tracing has been used with several other infectious diseases for decades. El Dorado County Public Health is also using the tool to help with local virus spread.
“We conduct contact tracing with all communicable diseases,” said El Dorado County Communications Director Carla Hass in an email.
According to health officials, the method helps locate people who have come in close contact with someone who tested positive for the disease, in this case COVID-19. Contacts are people who were around the positive case and could have been potentially exposed.
Informing contacts that they could have been exposed helps slow the spread by getting them to isolate as a precaution and testing the contact if necessary.
“Essentially, if somebody tests positive a public health employee will contact them to ask questions about where they have gone and with whom they have been in close contact since they became symptomatic,” Hass said. “That information is then used to contact those people to inform them that they have been in close contact with somebody who has tested positive for COVID-19 and suggest appropriate actions.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and El Dorado County recognize close contacts as individuals who came within 6 feet of someone with confirmed or probable COVID-19 for at least 15 minutes.
Officials will remotely communicate with patients who have tested positive and note everyone that the person may have come in contact with, especially those who they came in contact with during the infectious time frame.
STOPPING THE SPREAD
Heather Orchard, head of the El Dorado County communicable disease branch, said that they will try to get in contact with individuals who test positive within 24 hours, and there is an investigation with every positive COVID case. Staff will ask individuals where they have been and notify businesses within reason that a customer or employee tested positive, such as restaurants and hotels, especially if there are multiple cases such as a gym.
“We look at the source of the case and identify the infectious period,” Orchard said. She said one of their first questions is asking where the individual works. Health care workers and first responders are the top priority for monitoring close contacts.
The tracing helps ensure contacts don’t spread to more people by refraining from interacting with others for a period of time after possible exposure. Orchard said that with the delay and backlog of testing that El Dorado County experienced in the last few weeks complicated tracing efforts, but recent quicker results have helped tracing.
“Now the test results are coming back in three to five days,” she said.
During COVID-19 tracing, patient confidentiality remains. The contact is informed they could have been exposed but they aren’t told who could have potentially exposed it to them. The contact is followed up with and referred to the medical provider if necessary.
The CDC recommends testing for anyone who has had close contact with a confirmed case whether they are symptomatic or asymptomatic. However, Orchard said that recommendation of testing is determined by each circumstance.
“High risk contacts and anyone who is symptomatic should get tested right away,” she said. “For asymptomatic contacts we don’t necessarily encourage it, we go case by case.”
While COVID-19 contact tracing has kept the team extra busy, they also continue to conduct contact tracing for tuberculosis, sexually transmitted diseases, salmonella and other communicable diseases. Each disease has its own tracing criteria.
“I know some residents in the community are nervous about the government calling,” said Orchard. “We have had good communication with residents and we appreciate people answering our questions.”
Washoe County Health District is recommending that people download and use Nevada’s new COVID Trace app that launched Monday. Similarly to the contact tracing apps that have been used in other states, COVID Trace uses Bluetooth to notify contacts.
Washoe County Health District is working with the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services to use the app as part of its contact tracing procedure.
“The app is a great tool which can notify individuals that they have had close contact with a known positive case of COVID-19,” Scott Oxarart, Washoe County Health District communications manager, said in an email.
For the app to be most useful both the person who tested positive and the contact must have the app downloaded, which is why the app is recommended for everyone to download.
The health district will continue to conduct case contact investigations, but this app will be a helpful addition to the process. The app is discreet and does not name who tested positive, it just notifies people that they came in contact with someone who tested positive.
“Depending on the case, the process could take up to an hour or two to obtain a comprehensive list of contacts the case exposed while infectious,” said Oxarart. “COVID Trace will help those exposed persons if the case may not recall during the investigation or for contacts who the case does not know at all.”
Cheyanne Neuffer is a staff writer for the Tahoe Daily Tribune, a sister publication of The Union. She can be reached at email@example.com.
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