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Tracking each coronavirus case with contact tracing

HOUSTON – They are known as disease detectives. Epidemiologists track each case of coronavirus to help prevent the community spread of the virus. The team at Harris County Public Health is tracking each coronavirus case and using new and different ways to do it.

“It’s completely changed my job,” said Genevieve Sanders, an epidemiologist with Harris County Public Health. “We’ve had a smaller influx of different types of diseases. Now it’s strictly COVID, and it’s 24 hours a day, seven days a week sometimes.”

Tracking coronavirus cases

“We realized very early on that the caseload was going to become too much for the epidemiologists to monitor patients the traditional way, which is by making phone calls once or twice a day,” said Gerald Miller, a Lead Technologist with Harris County Public Health.

With an urgent need, the team at Harris County Public Health created a computer program to help track COVID-19 cases.

“We send out a link to the person who is being monitored. So they can report the symptoms to us,” said Savannah Strohmayer, an Epidemiologist with Harris County Public Health.

“Since the tool starting being used on March 14, it has saved our epidemiologist from making over 1,000 phone calls for that information,” Miller said.

The department’s main job is to follow the contact tracing.

“Contact tracing is when we discover we have a positive case, and we want to basically figure out who they came in contact with or who may have transferred the disease to them,” said Elya Franciscus, a lead epidemiologist with Harris County Public Health.

“You sort of want to explore who they have been around their close contacts, family members, co-workers,” Sanders said.

The new tracing tool also tracks daily health data for each person.

“We see their symptoms we see whether or not they have a fever, we see their location,” Miller said. “Here we have a look at everybody’s temperatures as a bar graph. We are seeing temperatures range from 95 degrees to over 100 degrees. If we want to take a look at how that is distributed across the population, we can take a look at it as a map. This is quite literally a heat map showing temperature distribution based on their range.”

“We follow up with the people who test positive - daily. If they do become hospitalized, we check in with those hospitals and see how they are doing,” Sanders said. “It’s a lot, but it’s a rewarding experience. We get to help so many people, but it’s defiantly changed everything we do.”

New job and volunteer Opportunities

Just this week Harris County Commissioners Court approved to hire more than 40 full-time contact tracers at Harris County Public Health.

For information, visit the Harris County Public Health career page. http://publichealth.harriscountytx.gov/Careers

For volunteer opportunities, visit the Harris County Public Health volunteer and internship page. http://publichealth.harriscountytx.gov/hcph/Careers/Volunteer-and-Internships

To apply for volunteer and internship opportunities, complete this form: hcph.vsyslive.com