Contact tracing and you

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Last week’s announcement of the second laboratory-confirmed case of COVID-19 in Rio Blanco County sparked some questions for residents. Public Health Director Alice Harvey answered those questions by phone on Monday. 

Other counties give a lot more details when they have a positive case, why don’t we?

“The state leaves it to local authorities.” Colorado Department of Health and Environment has guidelines for reporting based on population. The size of our population allows for a “case by case” response. Identifying case details would make it fairly easy for people to figure out who was infected, which could cause innumerable problems. 

“The benefit of sharing details of an individuals’ activities is questionable when we are all at risk for exposure,” Harvey said via email.

What happens when there is a positive case?

Among all the unproven and untested information about COVID-19, one thing is known: people who have been in “close contact” with an infected person are at higher risk. Close contact has been recently redefined by the Centers for Disease Control as talking to someone without a mask and without social distancing for more than 15 minutes. 

When there’s a positive test, the “gold standard” for public health is to contact the individual and all their “close contacts” within 48 hours, Harvey said.

Anyone who has been exposed to a known positive individual is instructed to self-quarantine for 14 days and should be tested for coronavirus, whether they have symptoms or not. If they test positive, they’re asked to quarantine and self-monitor for symptoms until a negative result comes back. Those who test positive are also asked to recall their recent interactions with others, or at least where they’ve been. 

Quarantine orders normally include the individual and his or her immediate family members, including children.

In the case of an outbreak — two cases in 14 days from the same locale — public health would collaborate with the business or other entity involved to notify employees and help them increase screening procedures.

 “Even if you were not identified as a ‘close contact’ and therefore not contacted to be tested or quarantined, if you are afraid you might have been exposed or have symptoms you should self-isolate immediately and call public health to get tested. There is absolutely a possibility you could have picked up the virus from any location where an infected individual was present, if you are not taking precautions,” Harvey said, adding, “With that being said, many will be asymptomatic which is why we should be taking reasonable precautions all of the time, regardless of the location and who we are interacting with.” 

Is your phone really tracking you?

If you have activated the location settings on your phone or any of your phone’s apps, then yes, your phone can be used to track your location, including your travel. That’s how data indicating how far people were traveling from home during the stay-at-home orders was collected and shared. 

A recent smartphone update gives users the option to install a COVID-19 tracking app that will log possible exposures based on information from other users. 

“Rio Blanco County has not opted in,” Harvey said. “At this point, any tracking — beyond the travel data already being harvested by other entities — is completely voluntary and expected to remain that way.” 

RBC Public Health is planning to have booths at major events this summer where they will offer masks, hand sanitizer, and information. 


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