MURRAY, Utah, (Intermountain Healthcare) – During the COVID-19 pandemic, re-deployed Intermountain Healthcare caregivers have been helping the state with COVID-19 contact tracing. Contact tracing is not a new concept at the Utah Department of Health. Even before the virus that causes COVID-19 came on the scene, state and local health departments have done contact tracing to help slow the spread of other infectious diseases or viruses.
Contact tracing basically involves following up with people who have either tested positive for a virus or disease or who have been in contact with someone who has tested positive, to see if they could have exposed yet more individuals. It’s an important tool to slow the spread of disease. If the disease involves a virus that spreads easily, like the one that causes COVID-19, contact tracing becomes a very important and even bigger job.
There are currently about 1,200 contact tracers working with the state and local health departments. UDOH recently reached out to see if some Intermountain caregivers might lend a hand.
The skills needed for contact tracing are quite similar to the clinical skills needed in healthcare. After some training from the UDOH, 16 Intermountain Healthcare caregivers have been redeployed from their regular job duties while the need for their services is at a lower volume. They were excited to be involved and help with efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19.
What skills are needed for this job and why are clinical caregivers a good fit?
A medical or public health background is helpful for contact tracing. Healthcare workers are used to working with people from all different backgrounds and are good at helping people one on one. They’re compassionate and good listeners. Caregivers are used to helping people when they’re presented with new information. They know how to build rapport with them. They understand how to refer people to community resources. Sometimes people are afraid when they learn they have COVID-19 or have been exposed.
Intermountain Healthcare Infectious Disease expert Dr. Todd Vento says contact tracers are more important than ever now that COVID-19 cases are on the rise in Utah.
Dr. Vento says, “Our cases are increasing. We are showing we have community spread of this virus throughout the state, not just in the big counties. Contact tracing folks have seen, say two months ago, they may have identified a case and they’ve only had a few contacts. Now with increase transmission of the community, the increased movement of individuals who are no longer in a shutdown mode, there is more interaction and more spread. Our contact tracers are having to trace 15-20 individual cases. The most important measure to stop COVID-19 is to not get it. You look at contact tracing as secondary prevention, as a second line of defense so if someone got it, now we want to find out who they’ve been in contact with so we have to have detailed interviews and comprehensive questions that are asked of these cases.”
How does contact tracing work?
Contact tracers reach out to people and ask them questions about symptoms or when they got sick. They then help identify who they’ve come in contact with and where they’ve traveled. They help people jar their memory about who they’ve been with. It’s like putting the pieces of a puzzle together.
- Patient privacy is always protected.
- Contact tracers follow state and federal healthcare privacy laws and don’t disclose any names without asking permission.
- If you’re contacted because you have been around an individual who has tested positive for COVID-19, what do you need to do?
- You need to self-quarantine for 14 days since you were exposed and monitor your systems. Testing may be recommended.
- People want to protect those we love. UDOH and contact tracers are here to help guide you through the process.
How does quarantine and isolation help slow the spread of the virus?
It’s another tool to help the spread. Contact tracers can help counsel you on what to do if you’ve been infected or exposed. If you know you’ve been infected or exposed then you can make choices to not go out and potentially infect other people.
It’s vital for people to immediately isolate and follow the recommendations from contact tracers. It helps protect other people from getting sick and slow the spread of disease. Some people that get sick with COVID-19 end up dying.
If you have someone in your household with COVID-19, what do you need to do to keep others in the house healthy? What does that look like?
Practicing social distancing and wearing a mask still applies inside the home. If you’re in close proximity, wear a mask. This will help reduce the risk of others in your household getting the virus. Practice frequent hand washing and clean high-touch surfaces often.
Ally Cayias, speech therapist and contact tracer, is one of 16 Intermountain caregivers from rehabilitation services who opted to be re-deployed to help with contact tracing at the same time other healthcare workers focused on preparing for a surge in COVID-19 patients at hospitals.
She is an outpatient speech pathologist who works with patients with neurologic deficits. She works at a rehabilitation clinic as part of the Neuro-Sciences institute with Intermountain Medical Center.
Ally says, “Even though I wasn’t seeing my patients, going into the hospital the same as my other coworkers were, I could still help my community and lend my medical knowledge to those who needed me, my problem-solving skills and my communication skills. As someone who has my own health issues, being able to be a part of a solution for slowing the spread of COVID-19, finding out more about how to stop it and how to protect people is extra to me being in an at-risk population because the sooner we find that out the sooner that everyone can get back to their lives and the sooner I can get back to treating my patients the way I did before.”
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