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Document: Cole County Contact Tracing

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This article is free to all readers because it includes information important to public safety and health in our community.

Cole County health officials are taking a new approach to limiting the spread of COVID-19 by placing more responsibility on the individual to be aware of his or her health and with whom they have been in contact.

Contact tracing, or identifying who potentially has come in contact with a COVID-19 case, will be in the hands of the person who received the positive test, not the county health department.

"Beginning Friday, if you are tested at any site in Cole County, you will be given a lime green educational handout," Cole County Health Director Kristi Campbell said at a Thursday morning video news conference. "If you get a call from your doctor with positive results, you need to take immediate action to slow the spread of the virus among your family, friends and co-workers by following the outlined steps on the handout.

"Please, don't wait for a phone call from the health department," she said.

A person who tests positive, she said, will also have to notify everyone with whom they have had close contact.

"Close contact is anyone with whom you were within 6 feet of for more than 15 minutes starting 48 hours prior to becoming symptomatic — regardless of cloth face coverings," Campbell said. "If you had to do that today, how many people would that be?

"Please take action now to reduce that number on a daily basis," she said. "Keeping your distance from those outside your home is important in limiting the spread of COVID-19. We are not abandoning contact tracing in its entirety, just taking a different approach."

The county, Campbell continued, has been fortunate to have extra personnel to do contact tracing; the personnel are funded by the federal CARES Act, which provides local governments with money to pay for costs incurred for dealing with the pandemic.

Contact tracers work to quickly locate and talk with the patients, assist in arranging for patients to isolate themselves, and work with patients to identify people with whom the patients have been in close contact so the contact tracer can locate them.

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Campbell said they are making the change because they have learned that:

- It can take five to seven days before the local health department receives the positive results;

- Not all lab results are received;

- Not all lab results have the correct personal or contact information.

"We've also found that many people avoid answering the phone or they won't give us the complete information we need," Campbell said. "At this point, it is very difficult to determine where someone was exposed."

The new strategy, Campbell said, will allow positive cases to immediately notify their contacts as soon as they receive a positive lab result.

"When our new strategy is implemented, patients will not have to wait for instructions from the health department," Campbell said. "At the time of testing, patients will be instructed as to what to do while they wait for their results to arrive."

With this new system, Campbell said, the person who tested positive will receive instructions at the time of testing and won't need to wait for a call from the county health department.

"The person who tests positive will be expected to notify their contacts, which will eliminate the wait time and hopefully stop people from unknowingly spreading the virus," Campbell said. "We hope that people will feel more comfortable telling their contacts about their positive result versus a stranger on the phone."

Campbell said the health department will continue to assist those places where "outbreaks are more likely to occur such as businesses and schools. As long as CARES Act funding is available, we will to provide contact tracing services to local schools, as needed."

Campbell said educational information has been posted on the Cole County Health Department website at colehealth.org. They will also work with St. Mary's Hospital and Capital Region Medical Center on an increased educational campaign.

County, city issue COVID-19 advisory

Saying it's not a mandate, Cole County and Jefferson City elected officials issued a COVID-19 advisory Thursday morning, asking the public to help to slow the spread of the virus.

The Cole County Commission approved the advisory. Jefferson City Mayor Carrie Tergin said she had been involved in putting the document together and approved what it said.

The elected officials are asking residents to do six things:

- Stay home if you are sick.

- Keep physical distance from others outside of your household.

- Limit gatherings to a number that physical distancing can occur. Avoid gatherings where physical distancing can't be maintained.

- Wear a mask if you can't maintain physical distance.

- Encourage telecommuting and physical distancing within office buildings.

- Offer low-contact shopping methods, including curbside and delivery, and increase distance between seating in restaurants.

In the advisory, Tergin writes, "We want businesses to stay open, and we have worked closely with our local hospitals and physicians in offering this guidance."

Presiding Commissioner Sam Bushman emphasized the advisory does not include enforcement by the city or the county, and he asked residents to not call the county health department about enforcement of the advisory.

When asked why they felt compelled to issue this advisory, Cole County Health Director Kristi Campbell said, "It reinforces the messages that the Cole County Health Department has been releasing for the past month. I think the City and County leaders wanted to stress the importance of the actions that people can take to protect themselves and others."

Asked if this advisory really changes the expectations of local officials when it comes to the public heading COVID-19 recommendations, Bushman said, "I want our citizens to be more responsible for their own well being. This advisory is informational things that everyone should naturally follow."

Story continues below video

Local hospitals feeling impact of COVID cases

During Thursday's news conference, representatives of St. Mary's Hospital and Capital Region Medical Center said they have been able to treat the increased volume of patients, but their resources are being strained and could reach a breaking point if safety measures aren't followed.

Dr. Lenora Adams, of St. Mary's, said they have had a steady increase in the number of COVID-positive patients coming through their drive-through testing and being admitted to the hospital in the past several weeks.

"If measures like social distancing and increased hand washing aren't put into place, we could overwhelm the health care system in Mid-Missouri," Adams said.

Capital Region Chief Medical Officer Dr. Randy Haight said they too had seen increases in COVID patients in their wards and in their intensive care unit.

"Over the last month, we have doubled our cases," Haight said. "At our mobile testing site, we are testing between 200-300 patients every day, and 25-30 percent of those cases are positive. The increase is seen across Mid-Missouri, making it harder to transfer patients who may need higher levels of care."

Capital Region President Gaspare Calvaruso said this is also taking an emotional toll on hospital staff.

"From March through August, we had a total of five deaths occur at the hospital, and that has increased with 17 in October and already in November we've had 10 deaths due to COVID," Calvaruso said. "There is a lot of suffering going on because of the strain that is being put on our staff dealing with the patients and for the families not being able be with their loved ones during this time."

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