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PLATTSBURGH — Local health departments announced Friday how they plan to conduct COVID-19 contact tracing as the state’s virtual call center program ended this week.

Throughout the pandemic, the center has helped agencies investigate cases when volumes exceeded local outreach capacity, according to a news release from the Essex County Health Department.

END OF THE UNIVERSAL SURVEY

Earlier this year, the virtual call center ended calls to people exposed to COVID, but continued to support the isolation, monitoring and discharge of cases.

With the conclusion of the program, ECHD will also end universal case investigation for laboratory-confirmed positive cases.

“This decision was made now because the goal of case investigation and contact tracing was to reduce the transmission of COVID-19 by (1) identifying each case and quickly isolating the infected person; and (2) contacting and recommending quarantine to anyone who had been in close contact with the case,” the ECHD said.

The effectiveness of case investigation and contact tracing for COVID is influenced by several factors, including a high level of infection or vaccine-induced immunity, the availability of vaccines and other tools, reduced participation of people with COVID-19 and their close contacts in case investigation and contact tracing activities, increased use of self-tests, emergence of variants with shorter incubation periods and rapid transmission, a large number of asymptomatic or mild cases and the high volume of reported cases, the agency continued.

“Because of these realities, ECHD will focus its efforts on (1) case investigation and contact tracing in specific settings and groups at increased risk, and (2) promoting proven prevention strategies to reduce the transmission of COVID-19 in the community.”

These efforts consist of school-based testing, investigation of high-risk cases and clusters in community lives and elsewhere, connecting people at risk of severe disease with antiviral treatments and ongoing vaccination.

Franklin County Public Health also announced that it will continue to monitor positive cases and conduct follow-up communication with those in at-risk populations, congregate care facilities and local school districts.

“The general public will not receive a follow-up phone call or text message if they test positive for COVID-19,” the agency said.

NEW PROCESSES

Molly Flynn, CCHD’s senior public health educator, said communication with the virtual call center and support team from CommCare Concierge — the computer help desk program the state has used throughout the pandemic – indicated that no change would take place immediately.

“The county will continue to work with the (virtual call center) as new processes, etc., are developed and implemented,” she told Press-Republican.

“In the coming weeks, CCHD will be working on a plan that will move case investigations forward to those most at risk.”

Flynn said more communication will come once the transition process and local health department requirements are clarified.

ISOLATION PROTOCOLS

Those who test positive with a PCR or home test must self-isolate at home for five days after symptoms appear, or their test date if they are asymptomatic, FCPH said.

Isolation can end after the fifth day if residents have no symptoms or if their symptoms improve as long as they wear tight-fitting masks around others for an additional five days.

“If they cannot wear a mask or are moderately to severely immunocompromised, they should remain in isolation for 10 days after symptom onset or the date of testing if asymptomatic,” FCPH said.

Contacts of positive cases who are not up to date on their COVID vaccinations should follow the same schedule for their quarantine periods.

Those who are fully vaccinated must wear masks for 10 days after their last exposure, but are not required to stay home, FCPH said.

“It is recommended that all contacts be tested at the end of the fifth day,” the agency added. “Anyone who has already tested positive within the past 90 days is not considered a new case and is exempt from further isolation or quarantine.”

AUTO-Report

ECHD and FCPH still encourage self-reporting of positive COVID home test results through their websites.

They also offer self-service COVID isolation and quarantine materials.

If you are an Essex County resident, visit https://www.co.essex.ny.us/Health/.

Franklin County residents should go to https://www.franklincountyny.gov/residents/covid-19_guidance/index.php.

Email Cara Chapman:

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Twitter: @PPR_carachapman