62nd MDS tracks spread of COVID-19 for Team McChord

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Mikayla Heineck
  • 62nd Airlift Wing Public Affairs

Airmen at the 62nd Medical Squadron on Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, have been conducting contact tracing for COVID-19 since they were made aware of the first potential case of the disease, Feb. 28.

Contact tracing is a process that identifies and monitors individuals who may have had contact with an infectious person as a means of controlling the spread of a disease. A team of 16 tracers at the McChord Clinic work to establish a timeline based on the disease and assess the contacts an infected person had during that period.

“For COVID-19 we are most interested in laboratory confirmed cases,” said Capt. Melissa Jordan, 62nd MDS public health element chief. “We begin contact tracing as soon as we have been able to test a patient that is exhibiting symptoms.”

First, tracers use their knowledge of the incubation period, the period from when someone is exposed to when they first begin showing symptoms, to estimate the date of exposure. Then they assist patients in remembering individuals and locations they have been in contact with during that time period up until the present day.  

“It can be challenging to remember that amount of information, so we try to walk them through their days and utilize their calendars, call logs and text messages to help them remember,” Jordan said. “Often times, this means recalling every person and place you had contact with for the last 5-14 days.”

Once the list of individuals and locations has been compiled, tracers determine the risk of each contact having acquired the virus from the source patient. If the location or individual is determined to be at risk, they are then notified that they were in contact with a positive COVID-19 case.

A person who came into contact with a COVID patient will be placed in isolation until they are screened by a healthcare provider and if that person does not have symptoms then they will be placed in quarantine for a period of 14 days from the last interaction they had with the source patient.

“Medicine in general is a team sport and when you have a virus or pandemic it really takes the efforts of the team to track down anyone who came into contact with possible infection,” said Maj. Sarah Ayers, 62nd MDS chief of aerospace medicine. “The public health team for patients under isolation are calling people every single day. Tracking patients daily and providing reassurance also gives us larger scale awareness of what’s going on.”

If they do become a positive COVID-19 patient then they become the next source patient and the cycle starts over with them.  

“When it comes to a facility, we are concerned mostly with the last 72 hours,” Jordan said. “If it was a healthcare worker then we will deep-clean and sanitize all of the rooms and facilities that individual had contact with over the last 72 hours.”

While asymptomatic individuals who could be a carrier of the virus are still a concern, they are not considered the main source of spread based off of the limited research public health officials have available at this point in time.

“The idea behind contact tracing is to find cases as quickly as possible, limit their exposures to others and stop further spread of COVID-19,” Jordan said. “The more efficient we are with contact tracing further assists in flattening the epidemiologic curve and shortens the duration of an epidemic.”