Contact tracing helps limit virus spread
FINGER LAKES--With positive cases of COVID-19 continuing to occur throughout the Finger Lakes, health officials in Yates County are urging people to participate in contact tracing investigations if called upon and quarantine themselves if deemed necessary. While the local county departments of health are working with people directly affected by the virus to identify who they may have come in contact with, the state is then handling the additional communication by contacting anyone identified as a result of the process.
"The confusing thing is that contact tracers don't call from within Yates or Schuyler, so it will not be a 315 or 607 area code," said Deborah Minor, county health director for both Yates and Schuyler County. "Instead the number will be a 518 number, coming from the Albany area."
Due to the volume across New York state of potential contacts, most counties have moved forward using contact tracers organized through the state department of health. However, all individual investigations are instigated by a local department of health.
"The county department of health, once we receive the notification of the positive test from the laboratory, start the investigation with the person who tested positive, asking the person what they have done 48 hours prior to exhibiting symptoms until they tested positive," Minor said.
Once the county department of health finds out where a person went shopping, ate out, worked and with whom they had close contact with that information is then passed over to a virtual contact tracer.
"We still tell people who tested positive that it is best that they call people, friends or family and coworkers, anyone they know personally that they had contact with and inform them themselves," Minor stated. "Best to hear it from someone you know instead of a stranger."
However, if a person is not comfortable making that call or wishes to remain anonymous, Minor said the identity of people who have tested positive is confidential.
"That is very important that we maintain confidentiality," Minor said.
Once a virtual contact tracer establishes contact with a person, that person is then expected to enter into self-isolation for a maximum of 14 days. During that time they are expected to self-monitor themselves for symptoms and communicate the data either through text message or on the phone with the contact tracer assigned. If during that time the person exhibits no symptoms they are not required to be tested for COVID-19.
Virtual contact tracers will attempt three times to contact someone listed in an investigation. If after three times no contact is established, the virtual contact tracers will take that person's name and transfer it to the county health department for them to establish contact.
As of Friday, July 31, Minor said there had been one positive test in Schuyler County in the previous week with 80 people in isolation or quarantine while two people tested positive in Yates over the same time period with 69 people in isolation or quarantine.
"It would be a mistake to think that COVID-19 is not in the Finger Lakes. It never left," Minor said.
According to the New York State Department of Health, virtual contact tracers will only call from the phone number 518-387-9993 and will never ask for personal financial details, social security information or send links that do not include proper authentication procedures.