Has contact tracing changed? Why is the state’s coronavirus case count different from the city’s? The following is a transcript of an email Q&A with public health nurse Denise Ewing, who gives more insight into the contact tracing process, and the recent uptick in cases involving younger adults and youth.

KCAW: I’ve noticed the state tracking cases several days after they have been announced locally – what’s causing the discrepancies and later announcements of cases on the DHSS page? 

Ewing: The state is a couple of days behind sometimes on test results. They are doing their best to keep up with the increased demand in testing, however there are more tests, that take more man power and require more products (reagents). These stressors create a shortage of both.  The numbers unified command are providing are the most timely and accurate. We do not want to hold back information allowing the state to catch up. This has been the recommendation from the State of Alaska Department of Epidemiology, Public Health and Sitka’s Unified Command.

KCAW: The state is still tracking fewer non-resident cases in Sitka- why are those numbers not lining up with the unified command’s numbers?

Ewing: It would be a data delay with the state most likely. We most likely will see a data delay from time to time.

KCAW: For a long time, we had one “cumulative hospitalization” in Sitka That case was removed a couple of weeks ago, and for a while the city was tracking zero cumulative hospitalizations. Now there’s one listed again on the city’s website- is that a new case? 

Ewing: Yes, Sitka has one hospitalization

KCAW: Is a patient in Sitka currently hospitalized with COVID-19? If not currently, how recent was the hospitalization? 

Ewing: Sitka had one resident hospitalization, they have currently recovered and have been improving at home.

KCAW: We recently heard a report that contact tracing has changed-that state health officials are prioritizing high risk contacts, and not necessarily calling every person who has been in contact with a positive case. Is this information accurate?  

Ewing: The State Public Health are continuing to actively investigate and provide contact tracing for ALL individuals who test positive for COVID-19. We continue to investigate and make daily contact calls to check on their health, progress on their illness, provide answers to their questions, aid in meeting any physical needs when requested, and work with their employers and close contacts to ensure we are all on the same page. We are prioritizing all High Risk positive cases to ensure they receive full contact tracing as they are at a higher risk medically speaking and at a higher risk for spreading the virus. For those who are lower risk  we are still contact tracing fully, and we are requesting the person who is positive help reach out to their contacts and  provide them the information they will need to know about staying in quarantine for 14 days. By the end of the call they will have been given complete instruction on how to make these calls and the date they can share with their contacts when they are free from quarantine. The contacts of Low Risk positive cases will not receive a phone call daily from the State to check on them, however they need to take their quarantine just as serious as if the State did contact them. This is helping reduce the number of calls the State is making and has been so far very helpful. The Public Health Nurse is always happy to speak to anyone who has concerns or questions that receive a call asking them to quarantine. Public Health is open Monday- Friday 8:30 to 4:30 at 907-747-3255.

KCAW: Even with the new National Guard contact tracers adding to the state’s capacity, at the same time we’ve seen big statewide case counts each day. Have the parameters for contact tracing changed at all in the last month due to increased demand? If so, how? 
Ewing: We are very fortunate to have help from the National Guard, retired Nurses, School Nurses and staff from UAA. It has taken a great deal of time, over-time and commitment from our local Public Health Nurses to learn a new computer system for contact tracing and then onboard and train each of them-all while numbers still increase state wide, not to mention we are all still seeing clients and meeting those needs as well. The parameters for contact tracing greatly remain the same. We watch closely the CDC, and the State of Alaska Epidemiology/DHSS and have to be fluid with any changes we do encounter, but mostly they remain the same. The latest change was to the length of time a person is around another, that was 10 minutes and has now been pushed to 15 minutes, still within 6 feet.

KCAW: Is there any more information you’d like Sitkans to be aware of?  

Ewing: Yes, we are seeing an increase in cases that involve younger adults and youth. Greatly due to their socialization habits, not wearing masks or social distancing. I would strongly caution those who are holding and attending parties, frequenting social places to drink and eat in groups- this is helping spread the virus at a speed we cannot accommodate. With schools opening and business still re-opening we all need to slow the spread and take social distancing and other measures even more serious. Together we can do this! Thank you for all you are doing to slow the spread!