Hastings and Prince Edward Counties/May 5, 2021
With an average of 9.7 new cases of COVID-19 reported each day in the last month, and each impacting an average of 4.2 close contacts, case and contact management efforts are critical to stop the spread of COVID-19. This is because prompt identification and isolation of positive individuals, investigation into recent activities, and identification and isolation of any close contacts of the individual who tested positive, helps limit the spread of the virus in the community.
Limiting positive cases and close contacts will help keep the population safe while we wait for vaccines to be available for everyone
What does HPEPH do when someone tests positive for COVID-19?
When a positive test result is reported to HPEPH, a case investigator will contact the person who tested positive as soon as possible (within 24 hours). This contact is made to ensure that the person who has tested positive is aware of their status, is isolating as required, and to collect information that will help to limit any further spread of the illness.
When the case investigator reaches a positive individual, they ask when symptoms first started. This date is used to determine how the individual might have been infected with COVID-19 and who might have had high risk contact with (been infected by) the individual. If the individual has not had any symptoms, we use the date they were tested.
When are people contagious with COVID-19?
Individuals are considered contagious from 48 hours (2 days) before symptoms started up until they began isolating – which is called their infectious period. During this time, they could have exposed others to the virus. The individual who has tested positive is asked about all interactions with others during this period, including attendance at work, school, social gatherings, household contacts, errands, and more. HPEPH collects the names and contact information for all of those who were potentially infected.
An infected person is contagious for up to 10 days after their symptoms first started (or 20 days if COVID-19 illness is severe enough to require ICU-level care or the person has illness affecting their immune system). This contagious period is why they must isolate for a minimum 10 days after their symptoms began.
How does HPEPH identify the source of a COVID-19 infection?
When an individual tests positive for COVID-19, HPEPH investigates their activities for 14 days prior to their symptoms beginning. Since we know it can take up to 14 days for an infected person to show symptoms of COVID-19, they could have picked up the virus at any point during these 14 days (incubation period). When reviewing these 14 days, we ask about all possible exposures to others. This includes all travel, errands, work or school attendance, social gatherings or any other events during this period of time. This helps us better understand where or how they were exposed to COVID-19. It also helps us identify any potential connections with other cases in the community and identify any larger concerns such as outbreaks.
If I’ve been around someone while they’re contagious, how will I know if I need to isolate?
Case investigators thoroughly review all interactions of an individual who has tested positive. To determine the risk of others who have been in contact with this individual, public health considers whether personal protective equipment (PPE) was used (either cloth or medical grade mask), whether physical distancing was in effect, how much time the individuals spent together, whether other infection control protocols were in effect, and what the type of contact/interaction took place.
High risk contacts of COVID-19 must isolate for 14 days from their last contact with the person who tested positive. This is because it could take up to 14 days for symptoms to develop. If they become positive for COVID-19, they will then begin 10 days of isolation from their symptom onset, even if this exceeds the initial 14 day isolation period.
Low risk contacts are advised to self-monitor for symptoms for 14 days from their last contact with the individual who tested positive. They do not need to isolate unless they develop symptoms but should continue to limit any unessential close contact with others.
What does self-isolation mean? Why do I need to isolate?
During isolation, cases and contacts of COVID-19 have a legal requirement to remain home and avoid contact with any household members or others outside their home. Those in isolation are not permitted to leave their property, which means they cannot enter any shared driveway or backyard spaces. If they live with others and MUST use shared spaces such as a kitchen or a bathroom, they need to wear a medical mask, distance themselves a minimum of 2m/6 feet, and clean surfaces and items they use thoroughly and regularly. While this may seem extreme, when followed, these measures have proven effective to stopping the spread of the virus even among household members. This means that you can protect those you love from illness and limit the spread within the community – ultimately protecting those who are vulnerable to severe illness and death.
Now that people are getting vaccinated, why does HPEPH need to identify and manage cases?
Case and contact management continues to be critical to slow and stop the spread of COVID-19 until vaccinations are available to all. While many individuals are becoming eligible for their first dose of vaccine, the majority of the population remains vulnerable to the virus. To protect these individuals, HPEPH must continue to contact and isolate individuals who test positive, as well as their close contacts, in order to limit the spread of illness. Case and contact management will remain critical to keeping our community safe until most eligible individuals are protected by both doses of vaccine.
How is HPEPH improving efficiency of case management?
Notifying high risk contacts as quickly as possible is essential to ensure they isolate and avoid spreading the virus to others. To improve efficiency, HPEPH will begin using a provincial case management tool in the coming weeks that allows case investigators to send an SMS (text) message to individuals who test positive for COVID-19 as well as their high risk contacts. This message includes a secure link to a survey in which the positive individual/high risk contact can access to receive important information about their isolation requirements and provide public health with critical information regarding their circumstances to aid with case management.
What can you do to protect yourself, protect others, and help end the pandemic?
First and foremost, avoiding any unessential close contact with others will help stop the spread of COVID-19. However, individuals do test positive despite best efforts. If this happens, it is crucially important that cases of COVID-19 provide accurate and detailed information to the case investigator about their contacts and activities during their contagious period. The case investigators at HPEPH are experienced professionals and all investigations are treated with compassion and confidentiality. Being open and honest with the investigator will help protect your loved ones and limit the spread of COVID-19 in our community.
Community members can reduce the spread of COVID-19 by:
- Limiting all close (within 2m/6 ft) contact to those within your household.
- Wearing your mask over your nose and under your chin when in public spaces/around people not from your household.
- Staying home when you have ANY symptoms of COVID-19 and seeking testing for immediately. You must isolate until you receive your results* and feel better. If anyone in your household has symptoms of COVID-19 (even mild ones), everyone in the household must isolate until they receive their test result*.
- Being honest with HPEPH about your recent activities and close contacts, if you test positive for COVID-19.
*If you/household member receives a positive result, HPEPH will contact you to advise on further isolation requirements.
HPEPH is asking all community members to practice kindness and patience as we work together to end the pandemic. We are all doing our best to prevent the spread of COVID-19. This is not the time to discriminate against individuals who may have contracted the virus, or those who are working to stop the spread. Please treat others with compassion and respect during this challenging time.
- People infected with COVID-19 can spread it to others up to 2 days before their symptoms start.
- Avoiding all unnecessary close contact with others will avoid unintentionally spreading the virus.
- Staying 2m/6 feet away from others, wearing masks and eye protection, and limiting lengthy interactions with others reduces risk of infection with COVID-19.
- HPEPH contacts people infected with COVID-19 within 24 hours of their positive test result.
- Individuals who test positive or who are high risk contacts must isolate. Isolation means staying home and away from other household members. Isolation is legally mandatory if you are advised by public health (including via school/employer).
- Investigating and responding to one case of COVID-19 can take between 1 and 4 hours for a case manager.
About Hastings Prince Edward Public Health
Hastings Prince Edward Public Health (HPEPH) is a public health agency that serves the counties of Hastings and Prince Edward from four local offices. We monitor the health of our local population, deliver programs and services within our communities, and help develop healthy public policies. We provide information and support in many areas to help improve the health and well-being of our residents. Together with our communities, we help people become as healthy as they can be. For more information, please visit hpePublicHealth.ca. You can also find us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter.