The words “contact tracing” might no longer be ubiquitous when people talk about limiting the spread of COVID-19, but behind the scenes, this century-old practice remains an extremely effective disease case investigation tool.
Just ask the people who are doing it every day.
Three years since the onset of COVID-19, PubSEG’s contact tracers are still seeing firsthand the public health benefits of reaching out to positive cases and close contacts on behalf of the schools and communities we serve. Maybe people are sick and tired of hearing about the virus, but that doesn’t mean it’s something to ignore.
“As time goes on, I feel like we are dealing more and more with people who just want COVID to be over. We are sometimes trying to give guidance to people that they do not want to hear or do not feel is important,” says Megan Carroll, one of PubSEG’s lead contact tracers. “But it is still just as important as before to monitor these new positive cases and the exposures they create to make sure people are well-informed and can stay safe and healthy.”
Contact tracing did not start with the onset of COVID-19. Far from it! According to the nonprofit CDC Foundation, “Contact tracing has been a staple of disease control since the 1920s and in decades since has been used by health departments to slow or stop the spread of infectious diseases such as tuberculosis, HIV, and sexually transmitted diseases.”
The arrival of the highly contagious COVID-19 virus in 2020 forced health departments to amplify their existing contact tracing protocols and, of course, led to the formation of organizations like PubSEG that were committed to helping to slow the spread of the virus.
In the ensuring years, PubSEG has continued to expand its capabilities, via tools such as PubSEG Connect, an expansive disease case investigation software. Three years into COVID, we are supporting more than 60 campuses and municipalities across the country, with a variety of disease case management services.
But contact tracing remains at the heart of what we do for our clients.
“I feel that contact tracing has evolved over the course of the pandemic by becoming more effective in spreading COVID-19 education and isolation guidance,” says contact tracer Stacy Ruiz. “Sometimes I find a student being assigned isolation twice in a year, and by the second time the parent is more knowledgeable, less stressed, and less confused about the process due to past experience with our team.”
We asked several PubSEG disease case investigators to share examples of recent phone calls that illustrate the ongoing benefits of contact tracing in the fight against COVID-19. Here are the conversations they described:
“The phone conversations I feel have been the most effective are those where the call turned into something educational, rather than just data collection or giving quarantine instruction. Some people we speak with will begin to ask questions about certain guidelines or protocols they are not familiar with. Although COVID-19 has been with us for years now, not everyone has access to accurate information about what to do, and sharing that information with them usually leads to them sharing it with others around them, which in turn leads to an overall improvement in public knowledge about the virus.” — Manuel Bernabe Jr., Contact Tracer
“I had a phone conversation with a mother who had just returned from maternity leave, only to be exposed by a coworker in the office within the first few days. People tend to think they would know if they were exposed to someone who has COVID, but we are constantly explaining to the people we trace that even someone who didn’t look sick at the time you interacted with them could have still spread the illness to you. That’s why we are here: So that this mother knew to monitor her symptoms, mask as much as possible, and protect her baby from something she otherwise would not have known she had been exposed to.” — Megan Carroll, Lead Contact Tracer
“Recently, while requesting information about close contacts during an interview with the parent of a positive case, the parent was very helpful in attaining information from their student to better protect the school community and classmates. This further correlates for children the idea that their exposure can propagate to others during their infectious period.” — Julissa Flores, Lead Contact Tracer
“Based on a conversation I had recently with a positive case, the parent was able to isolate the child early during their infection, and as a result, prevented further exposure for the child’s classmates, after-school program, and family members. This was the first time the child tested positive for COVID-19, so the parent felt stressed and unsure about how to deal with the situation. Contact tracing helped guide the parent during the isolation process, so they were knowledgeable about the appropriate steps to take and felt more secure about handling the process with assistance.” — Stacy Ruiz, Contact Tracer
These are just four recent examples of ways PubSEG’s contact tracers have continued to make a difference for our clients and the communities they serve. Maybe contact tracing is no longer considered “trendy,” but it was here long before COVID-19 existed and will remain an important disease case investigation tool for as long as there are diseases to investigate.
If you’d like to learn more about how PubSEG can help your school, community, or organization stay safe and healthy, give us a call at 856-240-8117 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Whatever health challenges lie ahead, our team is always excited to help.