Contact tracing at the local level


What could slow the spread of the coronavirus? County officials say a phone call from contact tracers in the Scioto County Health Department is vital in keeping people safe

What could slow the spread of the coronavirus? County officials say a phone call from contact tracers in the Scioto County Health Department is vital in keeping people safe


Photo by Patrick Keck

The Ohio Department of Health describes the contact tracing process on its website, breaking it down into the following four steps:

  1. You call your healthcare provider, who may decide to test you for COVID-19 if you are exhibiting the symptoms. While you wait for the test results, you stay home and isolate yourself from others.
  2. If you test positive for COVID-19, your healthcare provider will call you to let you know that you tested positive. They will notify the local health department, who will then notify the Ohio Department of Health so that the case is added to the state’s data. During this time, you continue to stay home and isolate yourself.
  3. Next, a public health worker who is performing contact tracing will reach out to you to voluntarily talk and create a line list that is made up of who you have been in contact with. This traces who you may have come into contact with and may have been exposed to the virus.
  4. While you are still home and isolating, the public health worker who is conducting the contact tracing will call those who you may have been around and may have been exposed. Those who have been exposed will self-quarantine and monitor their symptoms for cough, fever, and shortness of breath. If they show no symptoms, after 14 days, their quarantine lifts. If these individuals do begin to show symptoms, they should contact their healthcare provider who may tell them to go and get a test.

PORTSMOUTH — Amy Albrecht had just spent her July 4 at a barbecue with family and friends. It was a day of celebration, almost reminiscent of the days before what has come of 2020. All it took was one phone call for her to be reminded of reality.

“We were sitting right beside her at the table and you kinda let your guard down when you’re around your family,” said Albrecht, the Portsmouth Daily Times’ office administrator of the past two years. “It was scary for me and I was trying to think of who all I had been around.”

Albrecht’s call was not from the Scioto County Health Department (SCHD) or the Portsmouth City Health Department (PCHD), but rather from a family member. A family friend of Albrecht had tested positive for the coronavirus putting everyone at-risk.

She worried if she had exposed her father, who Albrecht said is not in the best of health. Albrecht felt better after learning her niece had tested negative and that she herself had and has not exhibited any symptoms. Out of precaution, she started working from home last week, only going to the office parking lot to pick up mail.

Without the phone call, Albrecht might have never known she had been near someone with COVID-19. Across the country, local and state health departments-built contact tracing programming to inform people like Albrecht who recently spent time with someone with the coronavirus. The SCHD already had a contact tracing program before the coronavirus, dating back to the 1920s which had been primarily used for positive STD tests.

The program is run by Tracey Henderson, SCHD Director of Nursing, and has three nurses working the phones in addition to their daily work. After receiving a positive test, Scioto County Health Commissioner Dr. Michael Martin said the program relies on voluntary contact information to get the word out.

According to figures from the SCHD, the county has75 cases with 39 recovered and 10 hospitalized. The county has a census-estimated population of over 75,000, meaning that less than 1% of the county has a confirmed case. Still, with so little known about the virus, Dr. Martin said testing and tracing are vital components to gather scientific knowledge.

“It’s very important to the slow the spread of this disease because we don’t have great treatment for it,” said Dr. Martin. “By doing contact tracing, we’re able to quarantine those people to make sure they don’t spread it or have it.”

Dr. Martin said what makes this disease so difficult to stop is that asymptomatic and presymptomatic cases, up to 48 hours before showing symptoms, can both transmit the coronavirus.

“They would have been spreading this virus if it wasn’t for contact tracing,” said Dr. Martin, who recommends 14 days of quarantine if you or someone you have interacted with tests positive. “It’s a very powerful tool that we’re using because we really don’t have effective treatment. This is not the flu.”

The Ohio Department of Health has listings of contact tracing jobs online, jobs that would be done remotely and pay up to $18.59 per hour. The department asks those interested to contact Jennifer Valentine at her email, jennifer.valentine@odh.Ohio.gov, if they have questions.

What could slow the spread of the coronavirus? County officials say a phone call from contact tracers in the Scioto County Health Department is vital in keeping people safe
https://www.portsmouth-dailytimes.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/28/2020/07/web1_IMG_0985-2.jpgWhat could slow the spread of the coronavirus? County officials say a phone call from contact tracers in the Scioto County Health Department is vital in keeping people safe Photo by Patrick Keck

The Ohio Department of Health describes the contact tracing process on its website, breaking it down into the following four steps:

  1. You call your healthcare provider, who may decide to test you for COVID-19 if you are exhibiting the symptoms. While you wait for the test results, you stay home and isolate yourself from others.
  2. If you test positive for COVID-19, your healthcare provider will call you to let you know that you tested positive. They will notify the local health department, who will then notify the Ohio Department of Health so that the case is added to the state’s data. During this time, you continue to stay home and isolate yourself.
  3. Next, a public health worker who is performing contact tracing will reach out to you to voluntarily talk and create a line list that is made up of who you have been in contact with. This traces who you may have come into contact with and may have been exposed to the virus.
  4. While you are still home and isolating, the public health worker who is conducting the contact tracing will call those who you may have been around and may have been exposed. Those who have been exposed will self-quarantine and monitor their symptoms for cough, fever, and shortness of breath. If they show no symptoms, after 14 days, their quarantine lifts. If these individuals do begin to show symptoms, they should contact their healthcare provider who may tell them to go and get a test.

Reach Patrick Keck (614) 949-0629 , by email at pkeckreports@gmail.com , or on Twitter @pkeckreporter © 2020 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved

Reach Patrick Keck (614) 949-0629 , by email at pkeckreports@gmail.com , or on Twitter @pkeckreporter © 2020 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved