Tribal health officials urge contact tracing participation 

by Oct 16, 2020Front Page, Health, NEWS ka-no-he-da





According to health officials with the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI), each person testing positive for COVID-19 has had contact with 3 to 20 other people – known as direct contacts.  These contacts are coming from funerals, family dinners, cookouts, birthday parties, and church services notes Ginger Parker-Southard, MSN, BSN, RN, Tsalagi Public Health manager.

“I think people have started to relax since the state moved to level 3,” she said.  “Relaxing restrictions has sent the message the risk level has decreased, when in fact it is the opposite. When regulation decreases, the risk level increases. This is the time we need to be the most cautious.” 

She added, “Contact tracing allows us to monitor people who have been exposed and make sure they are not getting sick. It allows us to catch illness quicker, and it also allows us to identify outbreaks and clusters.” 

Sheena Kanott Lambert, MPH, EBCI Public Health and Human Services director, said that proper contact tracing can help prevent further surges but noted that it is not always easy to get people to participate.  “I think there is a growing stigma about people being sick so folks are more hesitant to disclose their illness to others.”

Parker-Southard describes the process of contact tracing as such, “Once a person tests positive, they will receive a call from a public health nurse. We will make sure they have received their results. We will then conduct an interview asking if they are having any symptoms and if they have been around anyone they know to be positive. We will then ask about direct contacts. We ask for a name and the date of the last time they were around this person. People that test positive will be called everyday for the duration of their isolation unless they request an every other day assessment.”

She went on to say, “We try not to disclose the name of the person that has tested positive but if it is in the best interest of public safety we will release the name if we have to. We try to send out public awareness messages like the messages about weddings and gatherings that have been put out lately. This is an effort to protect the anonymity of the positive person. When people call to be interviewed about exposure if they do not know who the positive person is already then we may have to disclose that information. It is so  important for people to be honest about their contacts. If they tell us directly, then the direct contact will be contacted and not given the name of the person that tested positive. They will just be told they have been identified as a direct contact of someone that has tested positive.”

If you are contacted by the Contact Tracing Team (844) 628-7223 or you feel you have come into contact with a person positive for COVID-19, the EBCI PHHS recommends that you quarantine immediately for a period of 14 days.  Information from the program states, “Stay home.  Don’t interact with people outside your household.”  

Dr. Richard Bunio, Cherokee Indian Hospital executive medial director, says knowing when to get tested is important.  

“It takes time for someone infected with the virus to show symptoms and start shedding virus in their nose and mouth,” he said.  “While this can happen anytime in the 14-day quarantine period, the best time to test is six to eight days after the direct contact.  Test too early and the infection may be missed.  Test too late and we lose the ability to conduct contact tracing and stop others from spreading the disease.” 

EBCI PHHS states, “If your test returns negative, you are still under quarantine and should not leave your home.  If your test returns positive, you will begin isolating within your home in a sick area.”  

To schedule a COVID-19 test, call the Cherokee Indian Hospital Authority’s COVID-19 hotline 497-3743.