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As a new strain of coronavirus (COVID-19) swept through the world in 2020, preparedness plans, masking policies and more public policy changed just as quickly. WVXU has covered the pandemic's impact on the Tri-State from the very beginning, when on March 3, 2020, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine barred spectators from attending the Arnold Sports Festival in Columbus over concerns about the virus, even though Ohio had yet to confirm a single case of COVID-19.

Contact Tracing Ramps Up In Ohio, Kentucky

ohio river
John Minchillo

Area health departments are drilling down on the data from local COVID-19 patients and hoping to identify people they've come into contact with to prevent further spread. This so-called contact tracing is important now that Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana are preparing to ease stay-at-home orders.

Northern Kentucky Health Department Epidemiology Manager Zach Raney says his department started doing contact tracing early on in the pandemic. Now as many as two dozen employees, who might normally be assigned other jobs, are calling COVID-19 patients and the people they've come into contact with.

Credit Northern Kentucky Health Department
Northern Kentucky Health Department Epidemiology Manager Zach Raney and his staff make calls to COVID-19 patients and their close contacts and put the information into a database.

For the health department worker this involves asking questions from a survey. That information goes into a database that the department can monitor.

"We kind of create a web from there and make contact with all of those close contacts, express that they may have been exposed, and what the risks are and what they can do to watch for symptoms and what to do if symptoms were to show up," Raney says.

Those exposed are told to quarantine for 14 days and take their temperature.

Raney says contacting people could become more difficult when they go back to work. "You know it could become a bit more challenging because right now folks are at home, they're answering the phone and it's easier to get ahold of them. And it could create a potential for more contacts."

Just like Northern Kentucky, Hamilton County is also relying on county employees for contact tracing who may normally do other jobs.

"We are going to start offloading some of those cases so that we can balance our work, and we do have additional folks trained should we see another spike," says Interim Hamilton County Health Commissioner Greg Kesterman.

Kesterman's staff trained people on contact tracing last week and is doing it again this week. Commission President Denise Driehaus points out it's one way to keep people employed. "It's one of the budget strategies to take an employee who is unable to do their work and redeploy them and pay that employee through federal dollars."

There is concern about additional waves of COVID-19 and for that, Northern Kentucky's Raney says he has a medical reserve he can tap into to assist with contact tracing.

With more than 30 years of journalism experience in the Greater Cincinnati market, Ann Thompson brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise to her reporting. She has reported for WKRC, WCKY, WHIO-TV, Metro Networks and CBS/ABC Radio. Her work has been recognized by the Associated Press and the Society of Professional Journalists. In 2019 and 2011 A-P named her “Best Reporter” for large market radio in Ohio. She has won awards from the Association of Women in Communications and the Alliance for Women in Media. Ann reports regularly on science and technology in Focus on Technology.