Rock Island County Health Department expanding COVID-19 contact tracing

The Rock Island County Health Dept. is expanding COVID-19 contact tracing efforts.

Staff at the county health department are now shifting day-to-day roles to become trained contact tracers. Last week the health department trained 17 additional people.

Before Monday, the county was performing a streamlined version of tracing.

"Find out their infection state, when they started feeling symptoms, where they had been, who their employer is," Rock Island County Health Dept. Chief Operating Officer Janet Hill said.

Now, with expanded contact tracing, all main contacts -- or people within six feet of an infected person for an extended period of time -- will be contacted.

"We would still in a large group call the workplace, but we would talk to their spouse, their mother, their children," Hill said.

For the staff who are picking up the phone and making the phone calls, the process can be slow. "For a full eight hours I probably talk to ten people," Shaylee Laursen, the Director of School Health LINK and now a trained contact tracer for the county, said, "It's quite a lengthy process when we actually sit down and go through all the questions. Gather all the information and provide patient education."

"A lot of people don't want to tell you everything. Some people want to tell you everything, so you could be on the phone for a good hour with some people. Finding who they were around is also difficult," Debbie Freiburg, a member of the Medical Reserve Corps. & a Board Member of the Rock Island County Board of Health, said.

"It's very important that we know who else is going to be infected. Where else is this virus going to spring up at," Freidburg said.

If an infected person has fewer contacts, because they've been social distancing themselves, it becomes easier for the county to trace. "If people are staying at home with their immediate family, then that's a fairly quick process. But if they were going out to extended family, visiting people in different households, then that makes our job a lot harder," Hill said.

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