Contact Tracing Returns to BFHD
Posted on 08/25/2020

Contact tracing returns to BFHD.

Case counts in March steadily increased as COVID-19 infections spread throughout our counties. Benton-Franklin Health District (BFHD) employees and a small number of volunteers were managing case investigations when 25 cases per day turned into 50 cases per day. In early June, as cases began to increase to 100 to 200 per day, our case investigators were unable to keep up. To ensure we were providing timely and thorough case investigations for our community, we asked Washington State Department of Health (DOH) for assistance. DOH took over our contact tracing temporarily to allow BFHD to coordinate a new response plan.

Temporary staff have been hired and trained and have taken our contact tracing back, which means local community members are contacting Benton and Franklin County residents who test positive along with their close contacts. Our investigations team is doing a fantastic job. The contact tracing effort is an essential element of our work to limit the spread of COVID-19. We must meet certain metrics to advance through the phases of the state’s Safe Start plan including how quickly we are able to contact people who have tested positive and their close contacts.

As we look forward to the fall, and as schools determine a safe time to return to in-person learning, we expect a surge in concerns and testing for COVID-19 because of flu and other COVID-like respiratory illnesses common during this season. If we see a surge in COVID-19 cases, we will be able to activate more trained contact tracers to meet the demand and slow the spread.

What is contact tracing? Why is it important?

Case and contact investigation—contact tracing—is one of the most effective tools public health has to identify COVID-19 activity in our communities and stop the disease from spreading. Until we have a COVID-19 vaccine, we will lean heavily on contact tracing to help keep Benton and Franklin Counties’ residents healthy and safe.

We start by calling people who have a positive COVID-19 test and talk to them about their disease. We discuss the importance of isolation to stop the disease from spreading and determine when they were contagious and most likely to spread COVID-19. We ask who they were in close contact with during this time. We protect this confidential information and only share it with other public health and healthcare professionals.

How the investigations team works.

Case and contact investigation works with two other teams: care coordination and outreach teams.

A case and contact investigator contacts the care coordination team if an infected person or close contact needs temporary help. This could be financial help, food assistance, or finding a safe place to isolate or quarantine.

If the person who tested positive had contact with a business or medical facility, the investigator contacts the outreach team. This team has the expertise and resources to work with businesses and medical facilities on case and contact investigations.

We all must take responsibility.

Everyone should take these steps to protect the people you care about:

  • Stay close to home
  • Wear a mask when you are inside any facility and outside if you cannot distance 6 feet from others
  • Limit gatherings to your immediate household
  • Stay 6 feet apart from anyone outside your household.
  • Wash your hands, cover your cough, and keep up your best hygiene and sanitation
  • Get tested for COVID-19
  • Anyone who fits into the following guidelines should get tested:
  • Anyone with any COVID-19 symptoms
  • Anyone whose physician recommended they be tested
  • Anyone who is a close contact or has a known exposure to COVID-19
  • Anyone who feels they should be tested