El Dorado COVID-19 contact tracing finds 2 cases lead to at least 5 more

Dylan Svoboda / Mountain Democrat

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. — Once somebody in California tests positive for COVID-19, a set of precautions take place to take care of the patient and curb further spread of the virus.

Depending on symptoms the individual will be asked to self-quarantine or seek medical help.

Next the county’s “contact tracing” team will launch an investigation into each positive test.

A contact tracer’s job is to interview the patient, figure out who they may have been in close contact with, then inform those individuals and advise them to get tested. The practice is a key weapon in the fight against the coronavirus outbreak.

Such activities are already happening in El Dorado County. This week the county’s contact tracing team got taste of what’s to come.

The county opened at least two COVID-19 case investigations over the last week, one in the Lake Tahoe region and another on the West Slope. Both patients, said El Dorado County Public Health Officer Dr. Nancy Williams, continued working while ill and spread the illness to those in close proximity either at home or in the workplace.

In one of the cases contact tracers found two positive COVID-19 cases in the original patient’s coworkers and one in a family member.

In the other case, two of the original patient’s household members tested positive for the virus, and those individuals continued working as well. Nine of the original patient’s coworkers tested for the virus, and as of Tuesday, four had gotten negative test results. As of Tuesday, the county was in the process of contacting the household members’ coworkers and advising them to get tested as well.

While fingers may immediately point to reopening efforts in the county, Williams said the two cases likely originated before accelerating through Stage 2 two weeks ago.

The mini-outbreak tells a cautionary tale for those debating going out in public or working while showing signs of sickness, according to Williams.

“The most important message from this is people can’t drop their guard,” she said. “They have to stay home when they’re ill. This is a principle we apply and recommend all the time, not just for COVID, but for the flu season or anything else.”

It “remains to be seen” whether the two cases lead to a larger outbreak, Williams said. While the county is in communication with most of their close contacts, it can be hard to trace each connection the patients may have reached.

“This could blossom into something pretty significant or we may get lucky,” she said.

But, Williams added, recent efforts on the state and county level — increased testing capacity and contact tracing training — have El Dorado County much more prepared to deal with a larger outbreak than it was in March or April.

The county opened two free COVID-19 appointment-only testing sites in early May. Currently the county is training public health staff members to get to 30 contact tracers countywide.

There have been 67 confirmed COVID-19 cases as of noon Wednesday. No deaths caused by the virus have been reported in El Dorado County.

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