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A look at contact tracing in Boone County


Employees at the Columbia/Boone County Health Department have been working to contact individuals who may have been exposed to COVID-19.

Since the virus made its appearance in the county, contact tracers and investigators with the department have been interviewing people who tested positive and those who may have been exposed through them.

Rebecca Roesslet, a planning supervisor at the department, said a close contact is someone who was within six feet of the infected individual for 15 minutes or longer, or who was touched by the individual with the virus.

When someone tests positive for coronavirus, the department will do an initial interview with them to see who they may have come in close contact with. They will then reach out to those people.

"By then providing us with a list of names and phone numbers our next step is to contact those individuals, notify them that they've had a possible exposure, and what that means for them and what signs and symptoms they need to be watching for," Roesslet said.

The health department then asks those who may have been exposed to quarantine.

Staff use a look back period of two days before the positive person became symptomatic if they were when tested. If that person does not have any symptoms when they test positive for the virus, staff will work to contact people they came into contact with in the past ten days.

The Columbia/Boone County Health Department currently has nine investigators, who do the initial investigation to learn who patients may have exposed to the virus, and five contact tracers who reach out to those who may have been exposed. Investigators can do the initial investigation and reach out contacts.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of staff needed to perform contact tracing varies based on several factors, including the following:

  • The daily number of cases
  • The number of contacts identified
  • How quickly patients are isolated, and contacts are notified and advised to stay home, self-monitor, and maintain social distance from others

People voluntarily provide contact information about the people they may have exposed to the virus, but Roesslet said the department does not have many people who choose not to provide that information.

Roesslet said the number of people they have to contact when one person tests positive varies case by case.

"We've seen it range everything from no people to 40 plus. It really just depends on lots of things," she said. "What type of work do you do? Have you been to any community events? Do you have a very large family?"

She said the stay-at-home order greatly reduced the number of people positive patients may have come into contact with.

The department works to contact those who may have been exposed as quickly as it can.

"It is a priority for us. We don't sit on a contact for weeks," she said.

She said, sometimes, getting in contact with someone to do the initial investigation can slow down the process.

"Whether it's, a phone number that's no longer working or they don't return our phone calls. There's a host of reasons why that could happen and then that just pushes everything back further," she said.

Roesslet said when the department does contact someone to let them know they may have been exposed, they will not identify the person who may have given them the virus in order to protect their health information.

Roesslet said the department also monitors those who are in quarantine and their symptoms as part of contact tracing.

Boone / Columbia / Health / Health / News / Public Health Alert / Top Stories / Top Stories

Sydney Olsen

Sydney Olsen reports in the evenings during the week and on the weekend.


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