KEYSTONE — With just days to turn Summit County’s novel coronavirus numbers around to prevent additional restrictions, local public health officials are doing everything they can to prevent the spread of the virus.
At a virtual COVID-19 forum hosted by the Summit Chamber of Commerce on Friday, Oct. 30, Summit County public health officials gave an update on what they’re doing and what the community can do to help turn the county’s coronavirus numbers around.
One of the major parts of the COVID-19 response is contact tracing. The county’s lead contact tracer Lauren Gilbert said the team has spent over 10,000 hours on the phone so far, a statistic that will greatly increase as the pandemic continues on.
Contact tracers and the people they talk with will play a key role in the next week as the county tries to improve numbers to avoid moving down a level on the state’s COVID-19 dial.
The county’s contact tracers work to map the spread of the virus by identifying people who have tested positive and determining their close contacts, people who were within 6 feet for 15 minutes or more.
While the process should take about 24 hours for each case, the team runs into delays when people aren’t forthcoming with information, Gilbert said.
“What really helps us be efficient is if folks are forthcoming the first time we reach out to them so that we don’t have to go back and reinterview cases,” she said.
Employers and business owners have a role in the contact-tracing process, as well, Gilbert said. Sometimes employers can find out about a positive case before public health does, in which case the contact-tracing team urges the employer to contact public health.
“When we contact (businesses), we usually need to confirm information like schedules and contact information,” she said. “Having that information available from your employees really helps us be efficient in our investigation.”
If a business owner or employer contacts public health about positive cases in their workplace, the contact-tracing team likely will send them a worksheet to complete, which will save time, Gilbert said.
Most of the county’s cases come from the hospitality and food and beverage industries, Gilbert said. As the pandemic continues, it’s especially important for those businesses to follow the guidelines established in the public health order and in the physical distancing protocol form.
“We’re continuing to see trends in outbreaks from gatherings — that’s personal gatherings, social gatherings among workers and co-workers after work,” Public Health Director Amy Wineland said.
The county has plans to increase its enforcement of the public health order, which currently limits gatherings to six people indoors and 10 people outdoors from no more than two household groups.
According to numbers presented by Dan Hendershott, the county’s environmental health manager, the county has received 455 calls to the nonemergency coronavirus complaint number, 970-668-8600, since March 1. Of those calls, 49 have resulted in warnings, Hendershott said. Since the beginning of the pandemic, the county has reported only five cease-and-desist orders or notices of a violation of the public health order.
“Most of these have been early on around the stay-at-home time period, where people were having gatherings and that sort of thing,” he said.
Hendershott added that the county has issued only nine quarantine and isolation orders. The number is so low because the county only issues an order when a person is not compliant with the quarantine and isolation protocol.
Most people who are required to isolate or quarantine are given a more “informal letter,” Hendershott said.
Hendershott said the No. 1 way people can help the county lower its virus numbers is to follow the public health order.
“There’s a lot in our order that if everybody would follow it, we wouldn’t have the incidents of COVID cases here in Summit County,” he said. “We also need to look at enforcing what’s currently on the books more diligently.”
Hendershott said county officials met with the sheriff’s office and town police chiefs to discuss greater enforcement of the public health order.
“(Our protocol) is still going to start with education for the most part, unless it’s an egregious violation,” he said. “If we see repeat violations, we will go straight to issuing tickets.”
Hendershott listed people gathering in groups greater than six, businesses not enforcing capacity limits and people not wearing masks as examples of “egregious violations.”