Cuyahoga County COVID-19 Contact Tracers Gearing Up For Uptick In Cases

Dr. Amina Egwiekhor, a consulting physician at the Cuyahoga County Board of Health, prepares to make a contact tracing call on August 12, 2020. The county is ramping up its contact tracing efforts now that some schools have reopened. [Anna Huntsman / ideastream]
Dr. Amina Egwiekhor, a consulting physician at the Cuyahoga County Board of Health, prepares to make a contact tracing call on August 12, 2020. The county is ramping up its contact tracing efforts now that some schools have reopened. [Anna Huntsman / ideastream]
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Cuyahoga County health officials are anticipating an increase in COVID-19 cases now that some schools are reopening with in-person classes.

They are beefing up staffing to investigate possible new cases of the virus, said Romona Brazile, interim co-director of the county’s prevention and wellness department.

A team of contact tracers will be specifically dedicated to responding to new cases in schools, said Brazile, who has has been in charge of the county’s contact tracing efforts since March.

The tracers are currently working with school administrators to make sure class seating charts, bussing lists and other information are readily available, so they can quickly identify people who may have come into contact with someone with the virus, she said.

“You can’t really talk to a six-year-old about who you’ve been around in close contact,” Brazile said. “So, it is going to the teacher or the school administrator that helps us figure that out.”

This strategy is similar to how the tracers have identified people who were exposed to confirmed cases in nursing homes and other congregate settings, she added. 

The county has activated more of the 75 people who are trained to be contact tracers to help with the expected uptick in cases, she said. The county has recently only needed about 20 people to do the tracing work before schools reopened.

“I definitely feel like a lot of our focus and attention will definitely be on schools for the next weeks or months," Brazile said.

The health department may also work with employees from the Ohio Department of Health (ODH) if they need additional assistance, she said.

“We’re working with them right now too, to understand ... how much could [they] help us if we do see this large influx of cases that might come out of schools,” she said.

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine has asked schools to have a mechanism in place for reporting positive cases to local health departments as soon as possible. He also ordered school districts to work with their local health departments to come up with a plan for contact tracing.

"We just feel the more information that's available out there, the better," DeWine said. "The better the information that can come from the school, they're going to be able to manage that better and the school will have a much better chance of staying open."

 Local health departments will notify ODH of confirmed cases on a weekly basis, and ODH will post that information on its website, DeWine said in a recent press briefing.

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