More than 280 people in Catawba County have been contacted by Catawba County Public Health because they had close contact with someone confirmed to have COVID-19.
But those people are rarely ordered to quarantine, according to local health officials.
During investigations into each of the 97 confirmed cases (as of Friday) of the coronavirus in the county, public health nurses reach out to anyone who has been in close contact with the person infected — meaning they’ve been within six feet of the person for more than 10 minutes, Community Engagement Specialist Emily Killian said.
Those who’ve been in contact are assessed for COVID-19 symptoms like fever, cough or shortness of breath. While people confirmed to have COVID-19 are ordered to self-quarantine, close contacts are not routinely ordered to quarantine themselves, Killian said.
“However, we have advised all close contacts to self-monitor for symptoms and self-quarantine or isolate,” Killian said.
If someone has symptoms and gets tested, they are asked by the medical professionals who do the test to self-isolate while awaiting test results. The isolation isn’t enforced by the health department, Killian said. Patients are asked to sign a form acknowledging their responsibility to isolate.
Like other communicable diseases, physicians aren’t required to let the public health department know when a test for the disease has been completed — only if there is a positive result, Killian said.
Once public health knows there is a case, the three communicable disease nurses tasked with contact tracing start their investigation.
While the state is working to increase the workforce working on these investigations, Catawba County is not seeking to add more staff to the team, Killian said.
“At this time, that workload is manageable because of the relatively small number of cases we are seeing each day,” Killian said. “If our needs grow, we have the capacity to pull in more than two dozen staff to assist. If our needs exceed our capacity, we have the ability to request additional assistance from the state.”
The three public health nurses tasked with investigations into close contacts are also tasked with finding how a patient got COVID-19 and following up on patients with COVID-19, Killian said.
About 70 percent of the cases in Catawba County have a known origin and the rest are classified as community spread — when there is no known cause, Killian said.
Once a contact tracing investigation is over, the nurses continue to follow up with patients to check on their health, let them know if they’re ready to stop isolating and make sure they are isolating if they need to.
If someone is not quarantining while ordered to, the county can legally step in to enforce it, as with other communicable diseases, like tuberculosis, Killian said.
Someone is ready to leave isolation after at least three days have passed since a patient’s fever lowers without medication, the patient’s symptoms improve and seven days have passed since the first symptoms appeared.
Release from isolation doesn’t require a second test for COVID-19, but doctors can order a second test if they see fit.
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