This week I’ll offer a deeper look at the process of the epidemiology response to a COVID-19 case. Our epidemiology response starts by receiving a positive lab result and ends with providing quarantine guidance to close contacts. The primary goal of our epidemiology response is disease prevention. Through the hard work of our case investigators and contact tracers our team is able to achieve this goal. This article will give each reader a look at the work that goes on behind the scenes.
At the point in time a person in our health district tests positive, their test results are sent through the electronic lab reporting (ELR) system. COVID-19 Epidemiologist Uyen Nuyen downloads a report to our master line list every day to be assigned to a case investigator by Case Investigator Supervisor Sarah Work. Under the supervision of Hope White, Uyen and Sarah manage the epidemiology team master spreadsheet to provide updates to myself as well as other members of our epidemiology team.
Once the case investigators are assigned a case, they will conduct a disease interview with the positive person. During the interview, the case investigator will ask questions about, but not limited to, their symptoms, who they were in close contact with 48 hours prior to onset of symptoms through the day of the interview, and where they could have been exposed to COVID-19. During an interview it is important to note that case investigators are looking to determine an epidemiology link to another case or outbreak.
After the case investigator has completed the interview, they will pass the close contacts of a positive case on to our contact tracing team. Our contact tracing team will then interview close contacts to talk about their COVID-19 exposure, ask questions about their symptoms, and give guidance on proper quarantine and isolation if necessary. Our contact tracing team is also following up daily with our close contacts through an automated system to check in on each close contacts symptoms.
Our team response involving case investigators and contact tracers helps us determine outbreaks and suspected outbreaks. With the collaboration of both teams, Hope White, Khristina Morgan, and Sandy Sebisten work together with the outbreak team members to work named outbreaks. Outbreaks can occur at businesses, schools, events, etc. The goal of an outbreak team is to work alongside a business, facility, or school to create disease mitigation plans and provide recommendations and guidance.
I hope this background illustrates the complex work that goes into mitigating a contagious disease such as COVID. In order to do this work, we have to identify positive cases. If you are symptomatic or have been a close contact of a positive case, get tested. There are free, drive-thru events throughout the community, find one near you at: www.vdh.virginia.gov/roanoke/covid-19-testing-events/. If you test positive, expect to hear from a member of our epidemiology team. Please call us if you have questions at (540) 204-9995.