Modified: March 16, 2021 11:51am

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Interviews with newly diagnosed Erie County residents show common themes

ERIE COUNTY, NY – The Erie County Department of Health (ECDOH) is sharing feedback from recent COVID-19 case investigations to inform Erie County residents of ways to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission in workplaces and activities. Contact tracers have noted common case investigation trends that illustrate situations where COVID-19 is likely to spread.

Many COVID-19 cases within past weeks shared that they work at sites that do not require face masks when people are sitting at desks, cubicles, work stations or break areas. Some of these sites have experienced a domino effect of cases, where a cluster of cases in one week extends to other parts of a facility soon after. Contact tracers have observed a set of cases at one work site where 40% of employees had a positive COVID-19 test within three weeks’ time. Having multiple employees under isolation or quarantine at the same time puts facilities and work sites at risk for closure or suspension of services.

-          Employers should emphasize mask wearing as a safety measure while in the work place and discourage congregating for breaks indoors. Information about diagnostic testing should be shared with employees, including free testing through ECDOH.

Outbreaks in child cares and restaurants have become more frequent. In interviews, cases have disclosed that they have been at work – or for children, at a child care facility – while ill or symptomatic.

-          Employers should require that employees stay home when ill. Child care facilities can remind parents and caregivers of the importance of keeping children home when ill or symptomatic. Information about diagnostic testing should be shared with employees and parents, including free testing through ECDOH.

Through contact tracing, some individuals report that their health care providers discouraged them from getting a COVID-19 diagnostic test, while telling them to assume that they are COVID-19 positive. This can lead to longer quarantine periods for household contacts of COVID-19 positive individuals who are not able or willing to completely isolate. Declining a diagnostic COVID-19 test may also cause challenges for those individuals later on, as they would be subject to quarantine with any other COVID-19 exposure in the following 90 days.

-          Health care providers: please encourage patients to seek a diagnostic COVID-19 test if they are under quarantine or if they have COVID-19 symptoms. Free diagnostic tests are available through ECDOH by calling (716) 858-2929.

Also, contact tracers note that some cases and contacts are declining to cooperate with case investigations – notably in cases involving roller hockey team participants. This refusal limits ECDOH’s ability to make notifications of exposure and quarantine, and causes difficulties and delays later on, as those individuals wish to be provided with paperwork to be released from isolation or quarantine for work or school purposes. 

-          If you receive a call from an ECDOH contact tracer, please pick up the phone. Answers provided remain strictly confidential, and the contact tracing process is essential to breaking the chain of COVID-19 transmission.

Contact tracers have observed that recent positive COVID-19 cases have a higher number of close and household contacts than at other points during the COVID-19 pandemic. Currently, the average number of contacts per case is 13, while in the past, a typical case had six close and household contacts.

-          Limiting close contacts and keeping in-person gatherings to a minimum are recommended strategies to limit exposure from asymptomatic or undiagnosed COVID-19 positive individuals.