Contact Tracing 101

Posted by Communications staff on 11/9/2020

The goal is simple: Keep people safe.

To reach it, Health Services Director Becky Doughty has amassed a team of super sleuths. Six school nurses volunteered to be contact tracers – putting in long hours, seven days a week, to track down those who need to quarantine to keep COVID out of our schools.

It’s a process they’ve refined over time.

SPS nurse Meredith Clarke works alongside other district contact tracers in the SPS boardroom.

“We are so dialed in right now,” Doughty said. “No one escapes these ladies.”

When a staff member feels they have been exposed to COVID or tested positive, they reach out to their supervisor, just like they do if they were sick. Supervisors fill out a form specially created by Tech Services, which populates a spreadsheet. The contact tracers call the people on the spreadsheet one by one to help determine who they may have exposed to the virus by being within 6 feet for a total of 15 minutes or more. Then the contact tracers call all of those people and interview them.

“We’ve connected with 700 to 800 people since the beginning of September,” Doughty said. “It’s like solving a mystery, putting all the pieces together.”

As nurses, the contact tracers are able to help triage and walk people through any medical concerns. They also connect people with HR and help explain their leave options. The contact tracers develop an ongoing relationship with those they reach out to. People often call back as they think of other potential exposures or COVID-related questions.

 “We really provide wrap-around services for them,” Doughty said.

One case, therefore, can be open for several days. It’s a big job, but essential.

“It’s the way we identify who might get COVID and ensure they are not in our schools if that should happen,” Doughty said. “We are being very aggressive – in a good way. I’d much rather have people in quarantine than risk more potential exposure.”

When you look at the COVID dashboard, she added, high numbers of people in quarantine means the contact tracers are doing their job well, and keeping people safe.

The best thing people can do to help is to make sure they’re keeping 6 feet of physical distance.

“If we all maintained that, we wouldn’t have to quarantine anybody,” she said. “Our goal is to help our colleagues and students get through this safely. We’re all in this together. We will get through it.”