Contact tracing vital as COVID-19 cases increase in Jefferson County

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Posted at 10:31 PM, Jul 16, 2020

JEFFERSON COUNTY, Colo. — As the number of COVID-19 cases increase across Jefferson County, contact tracing is vital.

Melanie Rogers is a nurse at Jefferson County Public Health and leads a team of case investigators in the contact tracing department.

Each day, they receive a list of positive cases from the state health department for their county. On Thursday, they received 91 cases. Christine Billings, the incident commander for the pandemic, says positive results are high right now.

"Around June we were seeing 70-75 cases a week, now we are seeing about three times that much," Executive Director of Jefferson County Public Health Mark Johnson said.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) updates the list of outbreaks at businesses and facilities online. The Colorado Academy sports camp in Jefferson County shows an active investigation. Twenty people tested positive for the virus, according to the data.

Colorado Academy Director of Advancement Jacque Montgomery says an athlete tested positive at the beginning of July. She says they shut down the campus for three days and turned over information to Jefferson County Public Health to begin contact tracing.

Case investigators contact each person who tests positive and requests information about people they have been in contact within recent days. Once all the information is gathered, the phone calls begin. On average, Billings says case investigators contact 10 to 20 people for each COVID-19 positive result. The calls do not reveal who tested positive and last about ten minutes.

"We verify that we are speaking to the correct person, we confirm if they are currently symptomatic, we provide them with either quarantine or isolation recommendations," Billings said. "Based on the symptoms, we recommend them to be tested."

But getting someone to answer the phone isn't easy. Rogers says, on average, about half of the people pick up the phone. She says each call can make a difference.

"Hopefully, we are able to avoid further infection," she said.

There are no penalties if people refuse to talk to contract tracers.