The goal of trying to isolate the spread of COVID-19 by tracing how people got exposed is turning out to be a challenge as more than 50% of the people who test positive for the disease don’t know where they got exposed, according to the Department of State Health Services.
About 53% of people who were infected don’t remember where they got exposed, according to Dr. Emilie Prot, the regional medical director for the DSHS’ Region 11.
“This is worrisome because we need to make sure that we trace back where the person has gotten it so that we can properly isolate those who were exposed,” Prot said. “When we don’t know, that means that we do have community-wide spread and we have to take measures such as masking and other policies so we really need everyone’s help.”
Not knowing how patients were exposed, and thus not being able to locate the source, leaves health officials very little recourse.
“All we can do is isolate the people that are in the same household or that might work together but we don’t get to that extended circle, so that’s very, very important,” Prot said.
She also emphasized the importance of infected individuals keeping track of where they’ve been.
For that, she offered some suggestions — holding onto receipts, tracking where destinations on Google Maps or some other global position system, and referring back to a planner or calendar.
“There’s different ways to remember so when someone is calling you from public health, make sure you know where you’ve been for the past couple of weeks,” she said. “Make sure you know who you’ve been with as well and you have those contact numbers ready. They’re going to be asking you — who have you spent time with?”
Prot explained that “close contact” is defined as being within 6 feet of another person for at least 15 minutes.
“So if you had a barbecue or if you’re planning a barbecue this weekend, make sure you make a list of all the people that are attending, make sure you keep safe distance from people that don’t live with you,” she advised. “We’re not saying you can’t do certain activities, we’re saying you can do them but you have to take preventive measures.”
Those measures can include separating the different tables, if there’s enough space, making sure people serve their own food if the food is located in one single location, and not using the same utensils or wiping down the utensils before each use.
“And also, if you’re interacting within 6 feet and in an enclosed area, wear your mask,” she said.
“We need everyone to be careful, we want people to continue to work, we want people to continue to be healthy and do their daily activity,” Prot said. “But we all need your help in respecting these rules and so that’s why I’ll end on please wear your mask.”