Contact Tracing: Health District Protocols

In the wake of yesterday’s disclosure of a COVID-19 positive employee at Longshore Sailing School, the Westport Weston Health District fielded a number of questions about contact tracing.

Director Mark Cooper noted that because the employee does not live in Westport or Weston, that person’s local public health authority is doing the contact tracing, as required by law.

Cooper also sent this information, from director of clinical care Louis D’Onofrio:

Westport Weston Health District has performed contact tracing for communicable diseases since it was established in the 1960s. Contact tracing is a fundamental public health activity that enables public health officials to slow the spread of infectious diseases.

The WWHD began contact tracing for COVID-19 in early March of this year. Our clinical team, along with trained volunteers, is responsible for and has been managing contact tracing activities for every reported positive case in residents of Westport and Weston.

The Westport Weston Health District works with Connecticut’s statewide confidential software system to monitor the health and wellbeing of people affected by COVID-19. The information collected in contact tracing is used to help stop the spread of COVID-19 in the community.

All WWHD staff and volunteers have completed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention training prior to performing COVID-19 contact tracing.  The majority of volunteers are a medical professional of some kind (nurse practitioner, medical doctor, registered nurse or medical assistant), and/or is a member of our Medical Reserve Corps.

Each public health jurisdiction in Connecticut is informed by the State Department of Public Health of a suspected or active COVID-19 case in their jurisdiction. The WWHD serves both Westport and Weston, thus it is our responsibility to contact residents in both.

The COVID-19 virus

WWHD staff then contacts that person and asks multiple survey questions using the state assessment outline. The survey collects basic information on symptoms, the ability to self-isolate, and assesses unmet needs (such as access to food, housing, healthcare, etc.), to connect people who are being asked to isolate with the resources needed to be successful. All information collected will remain confidential, and contacts who are identified will not be given information on cases (such as the person who may have exposed them).

If a positive COVID-19 person informs the interviewing WWHD staff member of another  person who may have been exposed to them and that places that person at risk, per CDC recommendations*, then the WWHD contacts that new person. If the person is not a Westport or Weston resident, we inform other local health departments via the CT DPH software, and their own town of residence public health agency performs that contact tracing.

Click here to learn more about contact tracing. We appreciate the public’s cooperation if contacted, as we must all work together to slow the spread.

*For COVID-19, a close contact is defined as any individual who was within 6 feet of an infected person for at least 15 minutes starting from 2 days before illness onset (or, for asymptomatic patients, 2 days prior to positive specimen collection) until the time the patient is isolated.  The public health evaluation of close contacts to patients with laboratory-confirmed or probable COVID-19 may vary depending on the exposure setting. Contacts in special populations and/or congregate settings require additional considerations and may need handoff to a senior health department investigator or special team. 

2 responses to “Contact Tracing: Health District Protocols

  1. Michelle Benner

    Did mark at our health dept contact the health dept of the town of residence of this positively confirmed employee of Lonsgshore? And if he did, did he work with longshore sailing school or this other health dept to collect the names of the dozens of families and staff members who were exposed to this employee? Did those families and employees receive follow up contact tracing calls from this other town’s health department?

    Say in the fall if schools open, and a westport public school teacher tests positive but the teacher is not a resident of westport. will our own health dept not perform contact tracing for all of the teachers and students exposed because that teacher is not a resident?

    It seems to me that if an employee of a business in Westport tests positive and thereby exposes dozens of people In Westport, our health dept should at the bare minimum offer contact tracing support to that business or institution. Or at least work closely with the other health dept. to ensure all residents of Westport have been propeely identified for contact tracing.
    Informing other towns via software just doesn’t seem like a thorough enough job at this stage of this pandemic.

  2. Michelle Benner

    When I spoke with Jane at Longshore sailing school earlier this week, she said that mark cooper at the health dept told her that she was going “above and beyond” what LSS needed to do. That is, LSS by law was not required to contact all of the families who were exposed to their employee who tested positive since that person was not a westport resident. Thank goodness LSS did the right thing and took responsibility for this despite the lack of support from our health dept! I am deeply concerned that our town does not provide a better structure for contact tracing. This was one of the big problems we faced in march when students of the westport public schools tested positive. The schools punted the problem to the health dept, and it fell dead in the water. Not one family or staff member who may have been exposed via school was informed or contacted. When asked as a recent School Reopening Committee meeting about what the plan is for the fall if schools reopen and a positive case is reported, Sue Levasseur’s best answer is that she will “contact the health dept”. She has provided no other detail even when asked, she has provided no sample scenarios or any assurance whatsoever that families and staff will be contacted. How is anyone supposed to feel confident with complete lack of thorough contact tracing in this era of covid?