WENATCHEE — The Chelan-Douglas Health District deployed its own team to conduct contact tracing in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, but in mid-May handed over its cases to the state Department of Health, according to public health nurse Cari Hammond.
“We no longer have the capacity to complete case investigations for positive cases and conduct the contact tracing,” Hammond said. “We still will conduct investigations if there is a positive case in a long-term care facility, but all of the other cases have been turned over to the Department of Health.”
Previously, the health district’s team included a mix of staff and nine volunteers to conduct contact tracing. Columbia Valley Community Health was also conducting contact tracing for its patients but on June 15 turned over its caseload to the Department of Health.
As of June 18, 28 Department of Health staff and 34 National Guard staff perform case and contact investigations for local health districts statewide, including Chelan-Douglas, according to Amy Reynolds, communications director for the Department of Health. Another 35 National Guard staff conduct daily wellness checks with people in isolation and quarantine, for a total of 97 state-deployed contact tracers.
Contact tracers contact a person who tested positive and gather a list of close contacts. Then, they conduct daily wellness checks with the positive case and the close contacts for 14 days, urging them to self-quarantine, monitor symptoms and get tested. Within 24 hours of receiving the lab results, 90% of persons who tested positive should be contacted by a case investigator. Also, 80% of their close contacts — those who have been within 6 feet of an infected person for about 15 minutes — should be reached in 48 hours.
Washington was the first state to adopt contact tracing when the first cases were announced in January but the service quickly stopped in March once cases began to multiply, according to NPR. Now, the state has trained more than 2,100 contact tracers, including 630 local and state health department staff, 723 National Guard staff and 769 Department of Licensing staff, according to the Seattle Times.
Hammond said that testing labs report positive cases directly to the Department of Health via an electronic recording system. The Department of Health can then go in and check the system daily to see if new cases have been reported in the counties and assign an investigator. That investigator then makes contact with the positive case, identifies any close contacts and notifies the contacts.
The Department of Health does not keep track of which staff members are working for which jurisdictions, but all staff works remotely and are not physically deployed to an area, according to Reynolds. The Department of Health also does not keep track of how many residents that tested positive have been contacted in the county. As of Tuesday, 574 individuals have tested positive in Chelan and Douglas counties combined.
The health district also received about 2,000 more testing kits from the state, said Chelan-Douglas Health District epidemiologist Joyous Van Meter in an email. Van Meter said that the increase in kits was not related to the modified Phase 1 reopening.
“We are always preparing for any possible spikes,” Van Meter said in an email.