Contact tracing: The importance and the challenges that go along with it


BALLSTON SPA N.Y. (NEWS10) — Contact tracing is the process of tracking down people who have come in contact with those who have tested positive for COVID-19.

It’s a complicated and exhausting process, but one that is critically important in the fight to slow the spread of the virus. Contact tracing teams from county health departments across the state have been working tirelessly.

Erin Murray is the Supervising Public Health Nurse for Saratoga County. She oversees a team of nurses who are working seven days a week, sometimes eleven hours a day, to track down people who have come in contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19.

“Sometimes we could be working on one case all day,” she said.

“We find the sick person, and then we figure out when their onset of symptoms was and then we go back two days prior to that to all the places they have been, all of the people they have been in contact with, and we have to find all of those people and put them into quarantine,” Murray explained. “Sometimes, we have cases where they’ve been so good because they’ve done everything they were supposed to do and they have not left the house. Then there’s the people who have been to Walmart, and we also have essential workers who are out and about doing their job. They’ve been in contact with a lot of people.”

Murray told NEWS10 ABC they do whatever they have to do in order to track people down. That could mean reaching out to other county health departments, local hospitals, or sending out an officer to do a welfare check and make sure they’re okay.

“Sometimes it’s as simple as we had the wrong address, but we always eventually find everybody,” she said.

Murray said the increase in testing is key as they are seeing more and more asymptomatic positive cases.

“As the weather is warming up, we’re seeing people in their backyards with numerous friends over enjoying themselves, but unfortunately, those are the circumstances where we’re infecting each other because they don’t feel sick and they’re spreading the virus,” she said.

Murray said contact tracing will likely continue for quite some time, especially as the state starts to reopen. She’s reminding people that even reopening begins, we should not be getting complacent with social distancing, hand washing and wearing masks. She adds that everyone should be monitoring themselves and taking their temperatures regularly.

The nurses who are part of the contact tracing team are made up of nurses from other departments within public health, school nurses who can’t be in school right now, and retired nurses who are looking to help out in any way they can.

“We really have a great team taking care of Saratoga County. Everybody is giving 110% every day, and we feel lucky to be a part of a helpful solution during a difficult time for our community,” said Murray.

She said there’s additional staff helping out as well.

“Staff that monitor all of the patients in isolation and quarantine, staff that write letters for mandatory quarantine, and then staff that send out letters for discontinuation of quarantine so people can be cleared to go back to work,” said Murray.

“Sometimes we’re tracing cases in our own county, sometimes our time is consumed by a larger outbreak in another county where there may be quite a few contacts in Saratoga County, so we’re responsible for those patients too,” she added.

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