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Deschutes County preps for potential COVID-19 surge, trains more contact tracers

Still hiring for three open positions on response team

BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- Deschutes County health officials are emphasizing the importance of contact tracing to prevent a resurgence of COVID-19 cases.

Less than two weeks since Deschutes County entered Phase 1 of Gov. Kate Brown’s reopening plan, county officials confirmed there had been a spike in positive cases attributed to multi-household gatherings.

The county hopes contact tracing will curb further spread of the virus.

As of Wednesday, Deschutes County had 10 staff members and six undergoing training on the team of contact tracers, according to Jill Johnson, the county’s communicable disease supervisor. 

The county also has three open positions on their COVID-19 response team, including two nursing positions and one for a public health educator.

She said there is no need for more tracers, unless there is a surge in cases.

“We’ve had a great outpouring of people interested in our community that are willing to step in and help us with contact tracing,” Johnson said. “In the event we need that much staff, we can call on them quickly.”

Johnson said contact tracing helps identify how a positive case contracted the virus and where it spreads.

The process starts with an interview with a person who was confirmed positive. The contact tracers find out who the person was in close contact with at least two days prior to the onset of their symptoms. 

Each person who has been in close contact with the positive case will be asked to self-quarantine for at least two weeks.

The Oregon Health Authority defines close contact as interaction within six feet for more than 15 consecutive minutes. 

“The recent rise in cases are connected to a couple of clusters where there were large family gatherings with multiple households,” Johnson said. “Now we’re seeing some of the contacts testing positive.”

She said it's important to be mindful of others when gathering by practicing social distancing and wearing masks when in close contact with others.

Visit the Deschutes County website for more information about the open job positions.

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Rhea Panela

Rhea Panela is a multimedia journalist for NewsChannel 21. Learn more about Rhea here.


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