How The County Tracks And Traces Virus Victims

Joyce Coates
County Reporter
As the number of people in Benton County who test positive for COVID-19 rises--140 on August 24, up from 133 on August 21— it helps to clarify how health officials arrive at the numbers.
The number of “active” cases, 26 on August 24, includes 22 in home-based isolation because they tested positive for COVID but have not required hospitalization, plus 4 who are hospitalized,. The latest number of people “under observation,” whom the Health Department asks to self-quarantine, is 365. Yet even though everyone in a particular household may be in quarantine, it could be that only one has the virus while the others are in quarantine because of their close contact with the infectious person.
“The only people we include in the number of COVID-19 cases are the ones who have definitely tested positive. And, if the same person gets tested more than once, they are only counted once,” Administrator, Linda Viebrock, said.
The larger number under observation are in that category because they have come in contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID. “In contact with” someone who has COVID means having been within 6 feet of the person for 15 minutes or longer, whether or not wearing a mask. 
Viebrock clarified how contact reporting works. “We [Benton County] do not track people with a GPS or anything like that.” Even so, some who test positive are reluctant to give names of their contacts. 
Benton County follows CDC guidance as closely as possible, she said. The process involves working with the patient to help recall with whom they were in close contact so those persons can be contacted to warn them that they may have been in contact with someone with the virus. The identity of that person is not shared. On the other hand, Viebrock said, more often people who test positive for COVID-19 have already informed family members and friends. 
The health department recommends the contacts stay home and self-quarantine for 14 days after the last exposure. They should monitor themselves by checking their temperature twice daily and watching for cough or shortness of breath. A health department employee checks regularly with people under observation to confirm they are self-monitoring and have not developed symptoms. If they do develop symptoms, they should isolate themselves to the degree possible, and contact the health department for advice on next steps.
To stay informed of the latest statistics, access the regularly updated COVID-19 data and reports on the Health Department Facebook page, the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) website, or, a not-for-profit, nonpartisan civic initiative that provides government data on a number of programs and issues, including daily COVID-19 updates. The latter two sometimes publish data before the County updates its information, but the numbers may not match perfectly. Viebrock coordinates with them to sort out discrepancies and keep the data in sync.
Test numbers and results come sooner when the tests are done locally, Viebrock said. Otherwise, tests done elsewhere usually are reported first to DHSS before being passed on to the counties whose citizens were tested. Test results will be reported to a person’s county of record, even if administered in another county, but in such cases the information is not available immediately.
Although positive COVID-19 cases have increased, a majority, 113 as of August 24, have been released, including two of the six patients hospitalized, and there have been no more deaths after the first. May everyone, everywhere, soon be COVID-free.