May 15, 2020 5:17 PM

Health Dept. adapts contact tracing, investigations as more is learned about COVID-19

Posted May 15, 2020 5:17 PM

by Sarah Thomack

St. Joseph Post

The St. Joseph Health Department has been adapting contact tracing and case investigation guidelines as they learn more about COVID-19.

Health Department Public Information Officer Stephanie Malita says guidelines have been in place for contact tracing when any communicable disease is reported in the community. 

“Say a doctor on the east side of town has two cases of giardia and a doctor on the north side of town that’s not connected has three cases of giardia and somebody on the south end has another case,” Malita says. “The reason they let us know is because, independently, those cases wouldn’t strike a chord or ring a bell, but because they report them all to the health department, we can do an investigation and find out did (they) all go camping together and get it in the water or is somebody at a food service place not washing their hands like they should be. So we do that investigation to sort of figure out where did it come from, where is it going and obviously try to stop it in its tracks.”

With COVID-19, public health staff work to contact each person who is identified as a positive case and asks them to look back two days prior to when they noticed symptoms or the date they tested positive, whether or not they had symptoms.

“And we go from there,” Malita says. “We call those people that they’ve had close contact with, we ask them about symptoms and make recommendations if they’re starting to show signs of symptoms and if they show definite signs of symptoms and they’ve been in close contact of a positive case, we turn them into a probable case.”

Malita says when they ask people about COVID-19 symptoms, the list originally included fever, a dry cough and shortness of breath but has expanded to include more as more is learned about the virus.

“We’ve also started to include questions about abdominal issues like abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, those can be indications of COVID-19,” Malita says. “The other one that’s just odd to me, but we hear it repeatedly, is losing your sense of smell, losing your sense of taste, so if that’s something people notice, that can be an indicator of COVID-19.”

Malita says the mass testing at Triumph Foods a couple weeks ago resulted in mass case investigation and contact tracing and they were grateful to have help from regional health departments.

“Very grateful to the community and the community of public health workers that have stepped up their game and helped us out in our time of need when we had overwhelming numbers of cases coming in," Malita says. "We would’ve been able to handle it, but it would have taken longer, in the meantime those people might have been out in the community, so it was critical that we had those calls made as soon as possible.”

Malita says the health department will again be doing contact tracing and case investigations after results come back from a drive-thru testing event at Mosaic Life Care this weekend.

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May 15, 2020 5:17 PM
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