Jump in COVID-19 cases overwhelms Health Department capabilities

By Adam Strunk

If you tested positive for COVID-19, you need to help out and call your close contacts.

That’s the message from the Harvey County Health Department as new cases in the county surged by 284 in nine days and active cases now number 337, as of Thursday. Overall 1128 have been infected with the virus in the county.
“We are overwhelmed as a staff for contact tracing, as well as investigating,” Harvey County Health Department Director Lynette Redington said at a Tuesday press conference.
Disease investigation and contact tracing have been a core duty of the health department in fighting the spread of COVID-19.

The department started with a part-time position for the duties at the start of the outbreak.

Since then, it’s added two new contact tracers, as well as four new disease investigators.

“It’s not the cases maxed out our part-time position, it’s that they maxed out six positions,” country director of communications, Kyle McCaskey said.
The health department is working on hiring even more staff and currently is relying on the state for additional help.
Redington said the state’s resources are also stretched thin as Harvey County isn’t the only county in need of help.

Disease investigation and contact tracing serves as a vital function in the fight against COVID-19 because it slows the disease spread.

If a person is notified right away that they are a close contact of someone sick, that person can immediately quarantine, preventing infection spread.

If that information takes multiple days or isn’t disseminated, the close contact could spread the disease themselves for up to two days before showing symptoms.

It takes one person at a nursing facility, large employer, church or school to result in widespread exposure.

Lax behavior regarding mask orders, which slow the spread, only enhance those risks.
The department is currently in the hiring process for more contact tracers and disease investigators.

Those positions are being paid for by state funds, as well as federal CARES Act dollars.

Until then, residents need to do what they can to make sure they’re doing their part to inform others of exposure and slow the spread of the disease.

According to the health department, a close contact would be a person who spent more than 10 minutes with a confirmed case within two days of the person showing symptoms or when that person was showing symptoms.

Close contacts are required to quarantine for 14 days.

Those that test positive for COVID-19 need to isolate, as well, once they know results. Those that are waiting on a pending test should also isolate. Those with symptoms should contact their physician or a clinic if they don’t have a primary care physician. They should also avoid working or going out in public if they have symptoms.
Symptoms of COVID-19 include a fever, cough, difficulty breathing, loss of taste and smell, as well as nausea, diarrhea, a runny nose, headache and sore throat.