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County trying to keep up with contact tracing

While area hospitals are dealing with a crush of COVID-19 cases, the Stanislaus County Health Services Agency is straining to keep up to date with data and contact tracing, said Stanislaus County Public Health Officer Dr. Julie Vaishampayan during an online community briefing.

The county has 20 individuals from the state helping with contact tracing, but the backlog of cases combined with the rising number of new cases, is proving to be a challenge for the health department. 

Contact tracing and testing are seen as two critical components to slowing the spread of COVID-19 in the community.

Contact tracing has two parts to it. The first part is contacting the individual who has tested positive and establishing all the places they have been over a certain period of time and all the people they have been in contact with. The second part is then contacting those people and those businesses to inform them of the COVID-19 exposure. Those people will in turn need to be tested or self-quarantine for a time period.

“The investigation piece is where we need the most help,” said Dr. Vaishampayan. 

Dr. Vaishampayan said the health department has had some trouble getting people to answer their phones for the contact tracing. The callers will leave a message. The caller identification may not state that it is coming from the county health department, but the number will have the 209 area code and the first three digits will be 558. Calls coming from the state might display CA COVID team depending on the carrier. Otherwise, it will be coming from a number with a 916 area code. If people are unsure if the call is legitimate, Dr. Vaishampayan suggested asking the caller for a callback number.

“It will be very helpful if you answer your phone,” said Vaishampayan.

As of Friday, Stanislaus County has had 7,603 COVID-19 cases with 1,247 presumed active. In the last 24 hours there were 202 new cases and seven new deaths recorded in Stanislaus County.

The county has recorded a total of 86 deaths from COVID-19.

There are currently 284 people in Stanislaus County hospitalized with COVID-19. Of those, 58 are in ICU. The available hospital beds was at 33.7 percent on Friday and the available of ICU beds was at 0.9 percent. Ventilators available for use is at 65.3 percent.

On Monday she released a new COVID statement:

“I want to share two important figures: 669 and 204. Before I explain why those are important, I’ll explain why I’m writing this message to our community. Stanislaus County children need to be in school. We all want this; the teachers, the school administrators, the community, all of us want children to learn in a classroom. The distance learning alternative and the lack of important school-based programs and activities means a painful loss to our community. We are also aware of the stress working families have when the children are not in school during the day. So why can’t we open the schools now and if we can’t, what will it take to get us there?

“First, I want to review a few hard facts:

1. We are currently surging with COVID-19 infections. We had the highest rate of infection based on our population and the highest testing positivity rate of any county in the state last week.

2. Children do get infected with the virus that causes COVID-19. Children younger than 10 years old seem to get infected less than adults. But there isn’t a cut off where suddenly children start becoming infected with this virus at the same rate as adults. This is a gradual increase with age. So, our high school students are more likely to become infected than our elementary school students. Since the beginning of the pandemic 669 Stanislaus County school-aged children (5-18 years) have been diagnosed with COVID-19, 204 in the past 9 days. Imagine how many exposures would have occurred in our schools if they were currently open. How many children would have been sent home for a 14-day quarantine? How many school staff?

3. Children do spread COVID-19. Again, younger children don’t seem to spread COVID-19 as much as adults, but they do spread this virus. While data are still lacking, it does appear that the older a child is, the more they spread like an adult. School aged children don’t interact only with other children. They interact with many adult staff at school. They go home where adults of all ages live and spread COVID-19. These adults are at increased risk for severe disease.

4. Children do get severe disease. Stanislaus County school-aged children have been hospitalized. As with adults, the risk for severe disease increases with age. While less likely than adults, children do get severe disease and children do die from COVID-19. 

“Our goal is to get Stanislaus County children back into the classroom. How can we do this? It is going to take effort by all of us. There is no magic pill, no quick fix. We need to decrease the spread of COVID-19 in our county. We can do this!

1) We must keep a physical distance of at least six feet from all non-household members at all times. This includes six-foot distance from coworkers, other family members, friends, everyone who doesn’t live in the house with us.

2) We must all cover our noses and mouths at all times when in public, most importantly when inside, even around our family who don’t live in the same household.

3) We must wash our hands thoroughly and often. We must act and interact with people very differently than before this pandemic. It isn’t fun. It isn’t comfortable. We don’t like it. It takes constant effort. This is fatiguing and we’re all tired of it, and we can do this. 

“It’s what we must do to lower our community transmission enough to get our children back in school. To open businesses again. To feel life coming back to normal just a little more. We will get through these difficult times. Our children will be back in the classroom learning. The pandemic will end. We cannot stop this virus, but we can slow the spread. This is achievable if we all follow these three actions every day. Please help remind and support one another so our children can go back to school and our businesses can open. We can and must do this together.”