For those worried about their exposure to COVID-19 now that there are a handful of confirmed cases in the area, take some solace in knowing health officials are tracking down all the potential contacts of every patient.
“We make contact with the case almost immediately,” said Clay Horton, director of Green River District Health Department. “We set up a process with them where they have to self-isolate. We then interview them about where they have been the previous 14 days, and we ask them who they have been in contact with, what’s the nature of those contacts, was it a short conversation.”
The Health Department determines if someone is at risk if they’ve been within six feet of a patient for 30 minutes or more.
A casual conversation at the water cooler? No problem. An hour-long car ride? You’re considered at risk as a contact.
“We call the contacts and interview them as well,” Horton said. “We’re trying to ascertain if they have developed any symptoms, and if they have we try to route them to a health care provider if that’s needed. We ask them to self-quarantine for 14 days since their last contact with the patient.”
That still doesn’t mean anyone should rush to get tested.
“Testing is still kind of a limited resource at this point,” Horton said. “We’re not recommending people to get tested unless they’re symptomatic.”
An important distinction in terminology: isolation is for those who have symptoms and are sick, while quarantine is for those who have been exposed but should remain separated in case they become symptomatic.
“Those that are in isolation and in quarantine, they self-monitor for their symptoms,” Horton said. “They’ll take their temperature a couple times a day. We have them check in with us once a day by phone or text.”
Though individuals are asked to stay at home, that doesn’t necessarily mean an entire family has to as well. It depends on whether the quarantined person is experiencing any symptoms.
“If a person is symptomatic (everyone should stay home) because then the family has been exposed,” Horton said. “We do have situations where maybe a person came in contact with someone outside of the home, so that individual may be quarantined. Their family is not necessarily quarantined, but they need to still try to separate themselves at the house.”
Horton said the Health Department has guidance for in-home separation, including designating a part of the house for quarantine, not eating together and thoroughly cleaning with disinfectant wipes.
As for work, Horton said his administration does not tell businesses to close, but they may do so on their own and follow guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The Health Department will reach out to workers who may have been exposed, although Horton said most people would not be considered high-risk.
“We are doing these contact investigations and doing an assessment of who needs to be quarantined,” Horton said. “We’re contacting those individuals directly. If it was just someone that was as a casual acquaintance at work, you’re at no greater risk from that than you are just being out in the community.”
Horton said it’s important to understand that the number of cases will rise, but everyone should do their part in helping mitigate the spread of the coronavirus.
“We expect to see more cases. These are not surprising,” he said. “People should expect to see additional cases in the weeks to come. They need to realize these social distancing guidelines, these enhanced hand hygiene guidelines, really will have an impact in protecting themselves, their family and the community.”
The Owensboro Health coronavirus hotline is available 24/7 by calling 877-888-6647. Call the hotline before seeking in-person care. More information from OH can be found here.
For the latest information and data on COVID-19 in Kentucky visit kycovid19.ky.gov or dial the Kentucky state hotline at 800-722-5725.
For the latest health guidelines and resources from the CDC, visit their website here.