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Weld epidemiologists tackle COVID-19

Posted on 03/27/2020
Epidemiologist Bert Plants on a COVID-19 investigation call

Weld County — Typically, an epidemiologist working for the Weld County Health Department focuses on analyzing health data looking for trends and monitoring influxes in diseases such as rhinovirus and salmonella. But for the past three weeks, they have been knee-deep in COVID-19 investigations.

Seven days a week, the department’s three epidemiologists, and one retired doctor donating his time, have been working around the clock conducting investigations and helping in the fight against COVID-19. To date, their efforts have resulted in the investigation of more than 127 cases in Weld County.

“Investigating a case is intense and time-consuming,” said Dr. Wallace, Director of the WCDPHE. “Our staff has been, and continues to be, very responsive to this pandemic. We’ve made over 1,000 phone contacts investigating Weld County cases.”

The process of investigating a positive COVID-19 case starts with information provided by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) or a private health care provider. After epidemiologists are made aware of positive or potential positive COVID-19 individuals, they contact the individual and the individual’s health care provider to learn more about the severity of the illness and symptoms. Positive COVID-19 individuals are instructed to self-isolate, meaning stay at home and away from other people, including household members who don’t have symptoms.

Then, the real work begins as the epidemiologists conduct a Contact Investigation on that person. This part of the investigation entails reaching out to anyone who has had potential exposure to the virus via the individual who tested positive within the past two to 14 days to see if they’re having symptoms. If the contacts don’t have symptoms, they are monitored to see if symptoms develop. Monitoring activities include check-in calls, taking temperatures twice daily, and recording symptoms, if any.

If someone works with high-risk populations, the work facility is contacted, and the epidemiologists notify the facility of a potential COVID-19 exposure. The facility will begin their own investigation at this point. Often, this investigation is in coordination with the Health Department’s.

Working with the health care providers of people who test positive, the epidemiologists determine when to release the case from isolation once that case is considered recovered per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance. Beyond the work of the epidemiologists, the Health Department has a team of nurses, communication staff, data specialists, and other team members focused on this emergency response. They communicate and coordinate with the Weld County Office of Emergency Management, health care providers, the State Health Department, the media, and a variety of municipal and community partners.

“I want to thank our epidemiologists, my entire staff at the health department, and all the health care professionals in clinics and hospitals for working together as we continue to do the vital work needed to combat COVID-19,” Wallace said.

For general questions about COVID-19 in Colorado, call the State of Colorado CO HELP line at (303) 389-1687 or 1 (877) 462-2911 or email COHELP@RMPDC.org.