Health agency explains contact tracing process
IRON MOUNTAIN — During the coronavirus pandemic, Dickinson-Iron District Health Department’s nursing staff has been working to identify close contacts of all individuals who have tested positive for COVID-19, said Ruth Manier, the agency’s community health services director.
For decades, public health departments have engaged in contact tracing as a strategy to minimize the spread of contagious illness such as tuberculosis, foodborne diseases, sexual transmitted diseases, pertussis, and many more, Manier said.
“Contact tracing is nothing new for our staff and has always been a pillar to public health practice,” she said.
Since the start of the pandemic, all positive COVID-19 tests have been reported to the department and individuals are contacted immediately.
An interview is conducted to identify any close contacts they have had during their identified infectious period. A close contact, in regards to COVID-19, is defined as someone who is within 6 feet for longer than 15 minutes.
“We are well trained in asking questions in a manner to get the most information we possibly can,” Manier said. “We are asking about workplaces, locations that are visited, social gatherings, and travel. We are asking where they’ve been and the nature of visits.”
All close contacts are asked to remain home for 14 days from the date of their exposure and they are asked to monitor symptoms. Health department staff follow up to be certain that recommendations are being followed and check the status of the contacts.
The department also recommends that people with known exposure avoid anyone in a vulnerable population who is at a higher risk of infection.
If there were to be any uncertainty regarding contact tracing or questionable contacts, DIDHD would release a list of businesses that were visited by the identified positive case to increase the awareness of potential contacts, Manier said.
“We have not needed to release a list of businesses within our counties yet,” she said. “We have had a couple of locations that were disclosed by fellow health departments that were visited by a case or two. We have had cases that have been good historians. Individual contacts have been identified through tracing and has allowed for us to reach out to those individuals we consider to be at risk.”
Community members are reminded that it is important if you are being contacted by the health department to answer the call or return the message.
“DIDHD may be reaching out to you to let you know that you were identified as a known contact,” Manier said.