How is the DPH handling COVID-19 contact tracing?

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DPH

BLAIRSVILLE, Ga – All of North Georgia now has at least one Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH) confirmed COVID-19 case. DPH is also responsible for notifying individuals who encountered COVID-19 patients so they can isolate or receive testing.

After a lab relays a positive test to DPH, “local epidemiologist or public health nurse will start a contact investigation by calling the person who tested positive for the disease,” explained Public Health District Two MPH, Dave Palmer. District Two included Union, Towns, Rabun, White, Lumpkin, Dawson, Habersham, Stephens, Hall, Hart, Banks, Franklin, and Forsyth.

DPH Districts throughout Georgia.

If an individual can’t answer or is a minor, then family members can answer the questions. The line of questioning includes how a person could have been exposed to the virus as well as who else might have been unknowingly subjected to COVID-19.

Currently, the only people being notified are those who had immediate and prolonged contact with a confirmed COVID-19 case. In other words, they came within six feet or less and had more than 10 minutes of interaction. Symptomatic individuals will be directed to isolate, and asymptomatic people will be asked to quarantine. As scientists and epidemiologists, learn more about the virus, these recommendations could change.

Fetch Your News (FYN) asked about tourists who visited North Georgia, and then test positive once returning home.

Palmer stated that DPH relies on information provided by patients about where they had been recently, and he reiterated that only individuals with prolonged exposure would be contacted by DPH epidemiologists.

Additionally, he said, “There should not be any tourism per the governor’s shelter in place order. There should be no public gatherings. People out in public should only be there for essential reasons, food, banking, etc. and should be practicing social distancing.”

DPH Administrative Order on Public Health Control Measures, issued on March 23, instructs:

“Each isolated person shall avoid unnecessary physical contact with any and all persons and shall comply fully with the Isolation Protocol attached to this Order, which may be updated from time to time based on guidance from the Centers from Disease Control and Prevention.”

See entire order here: administrative_order_of_commissioner_i_q_amended_3.23.20_003-01 (1) (2)

The Isolation Protocol, last updated on April 1, details best practices for positive individuals who treat themselves in the home. In short, these patients should do their best to separate from all inhabitants of the house, including pets, ensure surfaces remain clean, and don’t share commonly used household items.

According to DPH, isolation can end once:

  • The patient hasn’t had a fever for at least 72 hours (that is, three full days of no fever without the use of a fever-reducing medicine); AND
  • Other symptoms, such as cough and shortness of breath, have improved; AND
  • At least 7 days have passed since symptoms first appeared.

If placed under home isolation due to a laboratory-confirmed positive test result but have experienced no symptoms of COVID-19, patients may discontinue home isolation when at least 7 days have passed since the date of the first positive diagnostic test.

See entire isolation protocol here: covid-19_isolation_protocol_.revised_4.1.20_exhibit_to_ao (1)

Quarantined individuals or those identified as most likely to result in infection must remain in their homes for 14 days since last exposure to COVID-19. According to the DPH Administrative Order on Public Health Control Measures:

“During the period of quarantine, the quarantined person shall take his or her temperature twice per day and monitor any symptoms of respiratory illness. If at any time the quarantined person’s temperature is above 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit, or if the quarantined person experiences cough or shortness of breath, the quarantined person shall be considered a person with suspected COVID-19 and shall follow the requirements for isolation.”

FYN also asked if DPH would issue press releases or notify the public in some manner if a patient admitted to attending a public event. Palmer stated, “Because the virus is spreading, we are not issuing press releases about cases – they are reflected on the GDPH website.” He also added that no one should be attending public gatherings under the shelter in place order.

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