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Contact tracers are virus detectives

FAIRFIELD – Jefferson County Public Health Administrator Chris Estle said last week her office has done contact tracing on 82 positive COVID-19 cases in the county.

Contact tracing involves asking those who test positive for COVID-19 to name the people they have come into contact with in the past 10 days. Public health gets phone numbers for those people and notifies them that they have come into contact with a person known to have COVID-19.

The public health department tells them the date they came into contact with the person but they do not reveal the person’s identity.

Estle said the department does not reveal the names of positive cases for privacy reasons. She said it’s up those who test positive for COVID-19 to be forthright with their acquaintances whom they’ve interacted with that they tested positive, and that those acquaintances might want to get tested, too.

“It’s so important for people who are positive to be honest,” Estle said. “It’s not a shameful situation to be positive. If you are positive and have been around 50 people, you need to be honest with them.”

Estle said that a person’s risk of contracting COVID-19 depends both on how close they were to a person with the virus and for how long. She said the rule of thumb is that people who are within 6 feet of a COVID-19 carrier for 15 minutes or more are at high risk of contracting the virus.

“Chances are, if you just pass by someone in the store, there’s not a high risk [of transmission],” Estle said. “But if you go to a big party, where there is extended contact with lots of people, that’s different. That’s the point we’re trying to make.”

Estle said she has seen cases where a person has contracted COVID-19 even after just minimal contact with an infected person. However, she said that, as a general rule, the more a person is exposed to a COVID-19 carrier or a carrier of any illness, the more likely they are to get the disease themselves.

Estle said people have to be especially careful when they go to places like restaurants, where they could be within close proximity to another person for more than 15 minutes.

“People are very social, and we like to be around other people,” she said. “We have to look at mitigation practices.”

Estle said the area’s nursing homes, hospital and beauty salons are doing a great job of taking steps to stop the spread of the virus.

Estle also talked about testing in the state. She said test results are being returned in 48-72 hours.

She said one of the key indicators to know if you have COVID-19 is a loss of smell and taste.

“Some people are reporting headaches, and others have flu-like symptoms such as fever and chills,” Estle said. “Some healthy people might not have any symptoms.”