By Steve Coulter
The Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH) is ramping up contact tracing efforts with a new COVID-19 contact tracing and case investigation call center in Oklahoma City.
The purpose of contact tracing is to find the known active COVID-19 cases and quickly get in touch with exposed individuals to ask that they quarantine and to schedule them to be tested.
“We reach out to every person who tests positive for COVID-19 in Oklahoma and typically make contact within 24 to 48 hours on average,” said Rob Crissinger, Communications and Media Relations Manager for The Oklahoma State Department of Health.
The new call center has more than 400 staff professionally trained in contact tracing and case investigation working active COVID-19 cases in Oklahoma, a cost covered by federal aid through the CARES Act.
“Tracers walk contact through a series of scripted questions that includes places they’ve been and people who may have been in close contact with during the time frame when they may have been infectious,” said Crissinger.
A Case Investigator and Contact Tracer is responsible for the investigation of communicable diseases. Investigations include: direct client interviews, delivering guidance on testing, quarantine, and home isolation, disease control intervention and education activities, conducting in-depth disease surveillance activities, and documenting key information for monitoring the local epidemic.
Public health staff work with a patient to help them reach everyone they have had close contact with during the time they may have been infectious. Staff then begin contact tracing by notifying exposed people (contacts) of their potential exposure as rapidly and sensitively as possible, not revealing the infected patient’s identity. Staff may disclose the location or event in which they were exposed.
A close contact is someone who was within 6 feet of an infected person for at least 15 minutes starting from 48 hours before illness onset until the time the patient is isolated.
Contacts are provided with education, information and support to help them understand their risk. In addition, they are informed of the possibility that they could spread the infection to others even if they do not feel ill.
To prevent the further spread of disease, people who had contact with someone with COVID-19 are encouraged to stay home and maintain social distance (at least 6 feet) from others until 14 days after their last exposure to a person with COVID-19.
Contacts will be asked to quarantine and monitor themselves for any symptoms. The Oklahoma State Department of Health has the authority to require isolation to reduce the risk of further spread to other individuals. An order for isolation can be drafted and served to you.
“If OSDH informs a patient of a positive test, or of contact with a positive test, we then ask the patient to quarantine. Should the patient fail to do so, the Commissioner can issue a Quarantine Order which is delivered to the patient. Should the patient continue to refuse to quarantine, OSDH can file an application for an Emergency Temporary Order in the District Court of the county where the patient lives,” said Crissinger.
Health officials stress that contact tracing is the best way to get control of an outbreak.
“The COVID-19 pandemic is not showing signs of slowing down, and the vaccine is still in a testing phase. Contact tracing is a proven way to mitigate the spread of a contagious disease and help get it under control,” said Interim Health Commissioner Lance Frye, M.D. “ The successful launch of this call center is a major win in Oklahoma’s battle against this novel coronavirus. The work done here is mission critical for the long-term health and safety of all Oklahomans.”
Contact tracing is a core disease control activity. It has been used for decades by state and local health departments to slow or stop the spread of infectious disease.
“Our contact tracing efforts have gone very well thus far and we’re picking up the pace now with the infusion of Google MTX giving us the ability to use text messaging in the contact tracing process,” said Crissinger.
For more information on contact tracing, visit the coronavirus.health.ok.gov COVID-19 dashboard.