GREEN VALLEY — With coronavirus cases steadily rising in Mercer County, local health officials are hopeful a new, statewide computer system will help with the important task of contact tracing.
Health department employees are currently making dozens of calls each day to those who have had contact with individuals positive for COVID-19.
“Whether making calls (to contacts) or answering questions, we have at least 50 to 60 calls a day,” said Public Health Nurse Becky Walker.
Today, the state will implement a new system for contract tracing called Chex Out, Public Health Officer Kathy Wides said.
“It’s going to go live on Friday,” Wides said. “It’s a statewide computer program to monitor contacts.”
Health Department Administrator Susan Kadar said the system will replace two systems currently in use: One that tracks contacts and a second that holds information on those with communicable diseases.
“Now, everything on COVID will be on one system,” Kadar said.
Those in the system would be positive for COVID-19 or had “meaningful contact” with someone who has the virus, Wides said.
The contacts will be monitored via their cellphone, Wides said, likening it to a robocall.
“Anyone having new, concerning symptoms will be flagged and sent to the health department,” she said.
When the health department identifies a positive case, Walker said the first question she asks is when the signs and symptoms appeared. She then asks about close contacts, and reaches out to these contacts by phone.
In a business environment, Walker said the question is, “How close was the contact?”
As long as it was minimal contact to a positive case, Walker said “you can go to work as long as you keep social distance and you wear a mask.”
Walker said she finds that most individuals who test positive for the virus are honest with her about contact information.
“I can’t guarantee they are telling me the truth about quarantining, but I think with it being a small community everybody is pretty forthcoming,” she said.
Walker said the incubation period for coronavirus is two to 14 days, and Wides recommends those who travel to a hot zone wait two weeks before returning to work.
Walker said some workplaces are requiring employees who travel to these hotspots get two negative tests before returning to work. “People are trying to figure out the best option.”
“The main thing is wear your mask, social distance and travel as little as possible — especially to hotspots,” Wides said. “But much discretion is left to the employer.”
Wides and Walker noted the difficulties in contact tracing when it is taking seven to eight days to receive COVID-19 test results and the patient is asymptomatic.
If a patient is showing symptoms, Walker said they assume the patient is positive before receiving the test results and begin contact tracing.
“It’s the asymptomatic carriers who are killing us — and it’s not their fault,” Wides said. “This virus is like a silent, ninja assassin.”