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The Roundup & 'Discovering the MonDak" Visitor's Guide Helping to Fund Contact Tracing

 

Joe White, Communities in Action Corps AmeriCorps member, providing information to an individual tested for COVID-19. This is the first step in the process for contact tracing. (Photo submitted)

Sidney, MT – Knowing that contact tracing is a critical component in keeping residents safe and in ensuring local businesses can open and remain open, The Roundup will be donating a portion of the profits from the "Discovering the MonDak" visitor's guide to the Upper Missouri Health Department Unit (UMHDU) and to the Richland County Health Department.

Upper Missouri Health Department Unit:

Public Information Officer Daphne Clark, UMHDU, stated, "The UMHDU covers Divide, Williams, McKenzie and Mountrail counties and since we've started providing contact tracing services for COVID-19, we have contacted around 400 people." Clark explained that before restrictions were lifted, people were staying home, and they would only encounter 3-10 people during the two weeks prior to being notified they had a positive COVID-19 result. "Now that restrictions are lifted and people aren't staying home, we're having to contact 10-30 people per each positive person." UMHDU currently has 9 staff dedicated to contact tracing.

As of this interview, UMHDU had not received any donations or funding to help offset the costs associated with contact tracing. Instead, they have had to cut or modify some of the programs they were offering and dip into reserve funds to ensure payments keep going out and their doors stay open.

When asked what she'd like to say to the community in regards to COVID-19, Clark responded, "We encourage you to follow the guidelines that are put out by public health and to make sure you are going to reputable sources for your information: local & state public health departments.

UMHDU and their staff would like to relay their gratitude to The Roundup for thinking of them. "We were surprised and are very happy and thankful," states Clark.

Richland County Health Department:

Richland County Health Department Environmental Health Director Stephanie Ler, explained that there are many steps in the process to determine who meets the definition of a close contact, which involves many, many phone calls with the positive case, and their potential contacts. "Public health staff makes phone calls to those identified as close contacts to determine whether they meet the definition of a close contact and whether they are symptomatic. This can sometimes be tricky, because the name and identifying details of the positive case is protected health information," states Ler.

Collectively, the Department has made more than 80 calls to the three positive individuals and their named contacts. These calls may last up to an hour, sometimes longer, which means that public health staff has logged at least 80 hours of contact tracing just for positive cases. Additionally, public health staff have logged more than 325 additional calls to those who have tested negative. At approximately 20 minutes per call, this results in more than 100 hours of calls to those who have tested negative.

Richland County Health Department has a dynamic team and have at times had to shift job duties to allow contact tracing staff to focus on their task. Contact tracing can increase the number of hours staff work each week. This in turn increases staff cost. The department has three main staff members and an additional seven staff and AmeriCorps members who have been trained and are currently working as contact tracers.

Ler advises, "It's important that folks understand that they will be contacted if they are named as a positive case. To help in this process, they can make sure their voicemail box is set up and available in case public health staff need to leave an important message. Additionally, folks should tighten their circle of contacts, and make note of with whom they are in close contact with in case they are part of a case investigation later."

"The Department is appreciative of The Roundup's effort to highlight the importance of contact tracing to contain the spread of COVID-19 in our community as well as for donating a portion of their profits to aid in the cost of contact tracing," states Ler.

For more information on helping to support the contact tracing efforts of the UMHDU and the Richland County Health Department by purchasing an ad in the "Discover the MonDak" visitor's guide, please call The Roundup at 406-433-3306.

 

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