Public Health: Lewis and Clark Co. COVID-19 switch tracking is automated | Local
Public Health: Lewis and Clark Co.  COVID-19 switch tracking is automated |  Local

Public Health: Lewis and Clark Co. COVID-19 switch tracking is automated | Local

Lewis and Clark Public Health recently switched to automated COVID-19 contact tracking to quickly inform isolation-tested individuals about isolation instructions.

This started a few weeks ago and so far it has been successful in reaching well over 1,000 COVID-19 positive individuals.

So what is automatic contact tracking? It starts with a text message sent to a person who has tested positive for COVID-19. This text provides information on isolation and includes a secure link to a COVID-19 case study form. The form collects data points that are useful to public health to better understand how COVID-19 affects our society. It only takes a few minutes to answer the questions and is HIPAA compliant and secure, keeping individual information private.

Why did public health switch to automatic contact tracking? With the Omicron variant, the number of cases increased at a rate that overwhelmed our public health team of nurses and contact trackers. In addition, the abbreviated isolation and quarantine guidelines made it very difficult to reach cases before the isolation period was over. This led to frustration from the residents and it slowed down the process of slowing down the spread of the virus. In some cases, the delays resulted in county residents only hearing from a contact track well in advance of their isolation period ending.

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To help stem the frustration and delays, health department staff looked at automated processes in other Montana locations, such as Missoula, Gallatin, and Flathead counties. After researching the best way to balance technology, user-friendliness for the public, and the public health requirement to conduct a case study on every single person testing positive for COVID-19, it was decided to focus on an SMS messaging solution.

Using texts to get information out to the residents in a fast and efficient way streamlines processes better and in turn provides isolation instructions to the residents for hours, rather than days. In addition, the automated system also asks cases to notify close contacts of potential exposure. It helps to be notified of close contacts about quarantine recommendations and lets them know that they should consider testing at least five days after exposure and determined if they become symptomatic. Contacts can be tested at our local test clinic. Please see our website to make an appointment.

For residents without a cell phone or number that cannot be reached by text message, the health department still uses follow-up emails or calls to ensure that all necessary information reaches the county residents. If you do not fill out the form, you will receive a follow-up text 1 to 3 days after the introductory text. Completing the form in a timely manner helps LCPH to better understand the impact COVID has on our society.

The automated program rolled out at the beginning of the month, and from a technological point of view, it works well. So far, about 1,100 texts have been submitted successfully, with only about 35% return rate for the COVID-19 case study forms completed. We understand that the system is new and that the Omicron wave seems to be disappearing; however, the information provided forms the basis for tracing any outbreaks in our county and is reported to the state and CDC.

If you test positive for COVID-19 and receive a text from Public Health, please take a few minutes to read it through and complete the form. The number we are texting from is 406-213-1444. Thank you for your support and call us at 833-829-9219 with any questions.

Laurel Riek is the Administrator of the Disease Control and Prevention Division at Lewis and Clark Public Health.

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