As COVID cases climb, contact tracing is key

By: 
Adam Rollins
Staff Writer

Warren County has seen a progressive increase in the number of local COVID-19 cases in recent weeks. Health department officials are asking for community members’ cooperation to slow the spread of the disease.

Cases in the county are on their way to being double what they were a month ago, with 60 identified patients as of July 8, according to the health department. The number of fully recovered patients stands at 41, and thus far the health department has reported zero deaths.

Public health nurse Stacey White said the new cases are coming from people who seek testing after developing symptoms of the virus.

“The demographics continue to include older adults, but we are seeing an increase in the number of children, teens and young adults that are testing positive,” said White. “As more people venture out and gather without face coverings and without social distancing, we will continue to see more cases.”

The health department has been seeing more frequent spread of the virus between contacts, so it’s vital that everyone continue to follow social distancing, face mask and sanitizing guidelines, White said.

After a case has been identified, one of the most important steps to slow the spread is to reach out to everyone that person had close contact with.

White explained that COVID patients are interviewed to find out anyone they were in close contact with up to two days before developing symptoms. Those contacts are asked to self-quarantine for two weeks from the date of exposure and monitor themselves for flu-like symptoms. Those who develop symptoms should seek testing, White said.

One such incident in recent days was a Warren County R-III student athlete who tested positive after attending a practice. The school district issued an announcement last week clarifying that the student did not attend summer classes, and that only those who attended the practice should monitor themselves for exposure.

One of the challenges of contact tracing has been relieving patients fears of being stigmatized for having the virus. White said the health department doesn’t ever share the names of patients. It only informs contacts that they were exposed to the virus on a particular date. However, White said it’s also helpful if patients are willing to reach out to their contacts.

“We strongly encourage people who do test positive, to notify all their close contacts once they get results so it is easier for us to educate the contacts on what they need to do and why it’s important when we call them,” White said. “The more open and honest people are about where they have been and who they have spent time with, the better we can reduce transmission and slow the spread in our community.”

Another challenge is reaching out to people who are reluctant to answer phone calls from an unfamiliar number, White said. She asked community members to answer their phone or check their voicemail if called by an unknown number — it might be a contact tracer calling to inform them of an exposure.

Two other tips White offered to reduce stigma and spread of the virus:

Don’t assume someone who tests positive knew they might have the virus. COVID-19 is potentially contagious two days prior to experiencing symptoms.

Anyone who has symptoms and seeks testing should self-quarantine until the results come back. Otherwise, they could potentially expose others between being tested and receiving positive results.

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