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If you get a call from a contact tracer, please be as helpful as possible

If you get a call from a contact tracer, please be as helpful as possible

Jul. 22, 2020

By Mary Wade Burnside

A lot has happened in the past three weeks. Monongalia County went from having 162 cases on June 30, accumulated since March 19, to 262 on July 5, a 62% increase in five days.

Now, we’re at 752 cases as of this morning. That’s a 364% increase in three weeks.

And we’re still waiting for testing results from last Saturday’s testing of 1,024 individuals; West Virginia began its effort to test 35,000 faculty, staff and students on Monday.

This activity has prompted Gov. Jim Justice to order bars closed for at least 10 days, as well as Monongalia County Health Department, with the cooperation of municipal and county officials, to enact an ordinance requesting businesses to comply with Justice’s mask order in public buildings, and creating a tiered system to deal with businesses that have three employees or customers test positive for COVID-19.

All the new cases have overwhelmed our disease investigators and contact tracers at Monongalia County Health Department. In fact, we’re asking for volunteers who can work in four-hour shifts and who can take the online contact tracing course provided by Johns Hopkins University 

Not only are they dealing with nearly 600 new cases in three weeks, but MCHD will also conduct disease investigation and contract tracing for both Saturday’s and WVU’s testing as well.

Less than a month ago, this blog explored the job of contact tracers and what they face: Calling an individual who has tested positive for COVID-19, maybe reaching the person quickly or maybe not… or maybe not until after making several attempts.

Then the contact tracer figures out when the individual was symptomatic and tries to determine who the person might have come into close contact during that time.

After that, the goal is to get good, reliable contact information for those individuals and call each one of them to ask them to quarantine and self-monitor for symptoms.

At the same time, contact tracers continue to make daily calls or initiate a text system to monitor symptoms. This monitoring is not only for individuals who test positive, but also to their contacts.

You can see it’s a herculean task even if all goes well. But lately, it’s not been so easy.


Sometimes tests come back with incomplete information for a positive individual, such as no address and occasionally, no phone number.

Sometimes the contact tracers get hung up on, or worse, cursed out and then hung up on.

Sometimes the positive individual is reluctant to give out contact information for their friends.

This makes contact tracing difficult.

Here’s how to make the process easier for the health officials who are battling the COVID-19 pandemic:

• If you get tested, please provide as much contact information as you can at the testing site. If you can’t be contacted with a positive result, then you cannot receive the help you need. 

• If you get a call from a contact tracer, please be as helpful and forthright as possible. The contact tracer's goal is not to pass judgment. It’s to try to find individuals who may have been exposed to COVID-19 and make sure they are OK and that they don’t spread it more.

​• If you have COVID-19 symptoms, stay at home and stay away from others in your household. 

• Please abide by the mask ordinance. Studies show that individuals who wear masks are much less likely to infect someone else if they are sick or be infected if they weren’t sick.

• Maintain a six-foot social distance from others in public. 

• Wash your hands often and thoroughly with soap and warm water for 20 seconds. Tired of “Take Me Home, Country Roads”? Think of another song to sing or hum for 20 seconds. 

Please, please, please, do your part. We’re all in this together.

Mary Wade Burnside is the public information officer for Monongalia County Health Department.

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