Containing the spread; what exactly contact tracers do

First News

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – Health departments throughout the country have been working to contain and limit the spread of the coronavirus since the start of the pandemic. In Allen County, contact tracers have made well over 50,000 phone calls to those in the community who have been in contact with someone who is sick.

The contact tracing team began as four workers who were thorough in the 10-15 phone calls they each made every day. Now, the team of 12 makes approximately 50-80 calls each day. Initially, contact tracers would contact those who were infected by making two phone calls. If that didn’t work they would make a home visit, and another phone call. At this point, they can’t keep up with that workload so now those infected get one phone call, and if they can they leave a message. If they can’t contact you by phone they make a home visit and if they still can’t contact the infected person, they have to move on.

Erika Pitcher, the director or community health and case management services says, “the whole point is to make sure they know when they are infectious, when they can safely go back into public, who their close contacts are and the message gets out to those close contacts for how long they need to quarantine for, and then we figure out who all have you been around and where have you been so we can make those notifications.”

Contact tracers reach out to places like churches and places of work. They then work to track where infected people went before they got sick. Finding out the places those infected could’ve gotten sick is important to keep the community safe.

“We can identify some hot spots where we can maybe reach out and put some interventions in place to limit transmission here in our community,” Pitcher says.

At the beginning of the pandemic, contact tracers would reach out to individuals who were in contact with someone who tested positive. But due to the increased workload, it is now the sick person’s job. Contact tracers are putting a focus on those who live with the person who is infected and ensuring they know when the quarantine period for those in the household begins. For someone infected, it’s 14 days from the day of last exposure.

“If you are infections for 10 full days, so say your husband is positive and you live with him and you see him everyday, you’re re-exposed every day until he is no longer positive. That quarantine period doesn’t start until his 11th day of having symptoms so it’s more of like a 24 day quarantine for some people and that’s what I think a lot of people don’t understand. If you aren’t intentionally isolating from somebody at home, you can’t officially start your quarantine period until you are no longer being exposed to them,” Pitcher says.

The exposure stops when the sick person is no longer infectious, or measures are put into place to no longer be exposed. At the each of each work day, contact tracers meet in a large room to discuss cases that were called on throughout the day. They also spend that time making connections where people are often being infected throughout the community.

Dr. Matthew Sutter, Allen County Health Commissioner says, “we won’t be able to contact trace our way out of this, we’ve got to have people change their behaviors.”

Without a vaccine or treatment yet, contact tracing is the one tool we have to limit the spread of the virus and without them, the cases could be even worse.

“I think we would have a lot of people out on the streets when they shouldn’t be, we’d have a lot more exposures. We talk to so many people that get sick and test positive in quarantine and they don’t have any exposures because they were safe at home during their quarantine,” Pitcher says.

It’s is important if the Allen County Health Department calls, to answer the call. And if you miss the call simply call back.

“Take the time to answer the questions, help us reach out to other people and slow down the spread of this virus,” Sutter says.

The information contact tracers share is vital to ensuring the health and safety of loved ones and those throughout the community. To contact the Allen County Health Department call 260-449-7561 and for more information visit their website.

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