By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
ONE FEATHER STAFF
Testing is an important part of the puzzle for the Cherokee Indian Hospital Authority’s (CIHA) fight against the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) within the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI), but contact tracing is just as important.
“Contact tracing is a process where, once a positive test is discovered, the people whom that person has been in contact with while infectious are identified and referred for testing,” said Jordan Doyle, P.A., Cherokee Indian Hospital. “This is done in times of severe disease outbreak in an effort to minimize its spread within a community. Unfortunately, early testing was taking three to 10+ days to be resulted which gave more time for the possibility of those contacts to unknowingly spread the infection to the community.”
The Cherokee Indian Hospital stated their contact tracing process is as follows:
* Call the person under investigation (PUI) and record the names of people the PUI have come in contact with
* Educate about the importance of social distancing and good hygiene practices
* Reach out to the people the PUI has come in contact with (names of PUIs are not disclosed at this step as it is protected health information)
* Inform the contact that they may have been exposed; and once test results for the PUI are received, the contact will either be tested or not depending upon those results
“As we built this system to contact trace on the Qualla Boundary, we realized that there was nothing stopping us from beginning to trace the contacts of the PUI before we got positive results on the Qualla Boundary,” said Doyle. “The CIHA Contact Tracing team does understand that this is an especially challenging time for the community and respect that this is quite scary. With every call, we do our best to reassure everyone that we have taken this approach not to evoke fear but in order to protect the health of the Cherokee community.”
Stephanie Begansky is the Cherokee Indian Hospital Screening/Testing, Planning, and Operations unit leader for the CIHA Incident Command. “We are encouraging people to come out for drive-thru coronavirus testing to get a broader understanding of where our potentially asymptomatic patients are within the community, and by early identification of those individuals we will be able to better protect the entire community. While we are lucky enough to have supplies to offer broad testing to our community, our testing supplies are limited. We are asking that only one person per household be tested at this time to maximize utilization of our testing supplies.”
She explains the logic behind the ‘one per household’ policy. “Chances are that if one person per household were tested, other close contacts within the household would have the same test results because of the way we understand this virus to spread. We will help you to determine who from your household should be tested when you call the COVID-19 Hotline for pre-screening. Pre-screening is not required for testing but greatly reduces waiting times at the testing site.”
CIHA officials wished to acknowledge donations of personal protection equipment received from the Nantahala Health Foundation and the Dogwood Health Trust including 100 face shields and 100 bottles of hand sanitizer.
“We are especially grateful for the innovative leadership of the Dogwood Health Trust,” said Casey Cooper, CIHA chief executive officer. “They challenged us to implement the best practices in containment and mitigation and then came alongside us providing us with data, information, supplies, and test kits.”
As of Thursday, April 16, the EBCI Joint Information Center (JIC) reported that 482 tests have been administered by the Cherokee Indian Hospital since testing started which includes six positive tests, 245 negative, and 231 awaiting results.
Doyle added, “I believe that the path we have chosen will be an example of how to control the outbreak of infectious disease for other communities abroad. We are blessed to have the resources and support to take these aggressive measures to combat this coronavirus pandemic.”
Information from the EBCI JIC encourages, “Please call 497-3743 to be pre-screened to expedite the testing process and for all your COVID-19 questions including the schedule and procedure for being tested.”