County says tracing key in COVID-19 fight

County says tracing key in COVID-19 fight

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Will Tucker

Linn County is open again for business after COVID-19 triggered a shutdown that lasted months. But in order to stay open, the county is banking on contact tracing. 

The Linn County Commission on Tuesday noted that, based on passing observations, social distancing guidance is not being strictly followed throughout the county. The trend could lead to increased illness in the county, which currently has 110 confirmed cases. 

"We have concerns that as we relax things that we're going to have an uptick," said Commissioner Will Tucker on Thursday. "Walking down the street I saw a mother and two young children and neither the mother nor the two children were wearing masks, and it just makes me cringe."

Gov. Kate Brown has allowed the state to open region by region if counties adhere to certain criteria meant to stop a potential COVID-19 resurgence. Social distancing rules must still be followed, masks are mandatory in some business settings and suggested for others, and all counties must have enough PPE and contact tracers. 

"Say you have a positive test," Tucker said. "A tracer will call that person and figure out where they have been and who they have come in contact with."

By identifying a sick person's contacts, officials can trace possible additional cases and ask those individuals to self-isolate for 14 days — the average incubation period of the virus. 

Linn County intends to train 30 tracers and is nearing that goal. 

Those tracers will then work to stay one step ahead of the spread of COVID-19 in the county. 

 "I'm concerned we won't catch the next outbreak until it's established," Tucker said.

Because many restaurants and other businesses are open again — with social distancing still required — people can be exposed to COVID-19 and not show symptoms for 14 days, if at all. 

But Tucker is hopeful that between additional testing and contact tracing, the county can avoid a new outbreak. 

Linn County is now testing about 150 people a day compared to the 15 a day it was testing weeks ago. 

"We're setting up drive-throughs, sending health care workers to be tested. The worry is, can we do the contact tracing and are people behaving in a manner that doesn't put them at risk or the county at risk? I want people to go out and for these restaurants and businesses to survive, but we have to treat this as the worst flu season you've ever seen." 

Contact tracing, he said, is also key in avoiding another outbreak. 

"We hope not to have 20 positive cases at the end of 14 days," Tucker said. "The idea is to test enough that you'll see two new cases today, two or three another day and we can trace where these people have been and start isolating the people they've come in contact with. That's the power of contact tracing."

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