Audubon Public Health

Pictured are Bob Nelson, Public Health Administrator, Teresa Murray Lead contact tracer and Patty Clark contact tracer.

When people test positive for COVID-19, how are others they’ve been around notified?

Often, with the help of contact tracers.

Whether a person’s test is conducted at a doctor’s office, a hospital or a Test Iowa site, positive results are sent to the public health department in that person’s county.

From there, contact tracers start their detective work — calling the person and asking questions to try to track the path of the virus through the community. In most Iowa counties, including Audubon this additional job duty has been given to its existing Public Health employees.

Our goal is to pinpoint both where someone contracted the virus and who else may have been exposed. Please keep in mind that these investigations can take the contact tracer hours to complete and that the questions being asked are required of the investigator.

People are considered infectious two days before they first exhibit symptoms. So the tracers ask these people to provide names and contact information for anyone in that period they were within 6 feet of for 15 minutes or more. If the person is asymptomatic, tracers ask for the names of everyone they were around 48 hours before they got tested.

The contact tracers then call those people and tell them they have been exposed to COVID-19 and should isolate for 14 days. Members of the person’s household, if they are not sick themselves, are told to try to stay away from the exposed person as much as possible.

When the contact tracers call people who potentially have been exposed, if at all possible they will not identify the person who tested positive, but will simply say they have information that you have been in contact with a positive case. This is similar for employee/employer situations, the contact tracers would not divulge the name of someone with a positive test to that person’s employer. Generally prior to the investigation the employee has already told their employer as they need to stay home and self-isolate for 14 days.

Employers can also help with some of the contact tracing, as they know their place of business better than we do. Employees are not legally required to inform their bosses if they have COVID-19, and the businesses are not legally required to inform customers or to close for cleaning if an employee tests positive.

Local Public Health Departments do not have the authority to close a business due to COVID-19 that decision is made by the business. It basically becomes a business decision based on their business operation or concerns to its employees and customers. Keep in mind that with contact tracing its possible a business may not have enough unaffected employees left to keep its doors open. If a business requires its employees to wear masks and social distance this potential problem is greatly reduced.

From a public health perspective it’s impossible to issue a blanket recommendation for how all employers should respond since each place of business is different. Local Public Health Departments also do not have the authority to monitor or enforce compliance, all we can do is make recommendations.

So please continue to Social distance! If you are 65 and older, or have underlying health conditions stay home as much possible. If out in public wear a mask and try to stay six feet away from others, wash hands and sanitize frequently. By following these simple recommendations you will make our community safer and our jobs here at the Local Public Health department more effective!