Case investigators looking ahead to the holidays as we move into a fall surge

State health officials announced Covid-19 cases soared past 100,000 in Washington State Thursday.

As the state moves into the forecasted fall surge of Covid, one of the best tools to contain the coronavirus is still testing and contact tracing.

Raeann Spicer is a case investigator with Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department. Her background in 911 emergency communication and social work prepared her for the challenging job.

“Some of these people are either waiting for test results and we are the bearer of bad news for them, or if it’s a close contact we’re the first person that’s telling them that you’ve been identified as someone that’s been in close contact with someone that tested positive,” said Spicer.

Spicer has been working with the case and contact investigation team since July. Each of them handle five to ten cases a day.

People who test positive for Covid-19 can expect to receive a phone call within 24 hours. People who are close contacts of someone who tested positive can expect to hear from a contact tracer within 48 hours.

“They want to be social. They want to go meet their friends. They want to meet their family members. They want to go out and have some fun. They’ve been cooped up for so long, but you know we have to remember with those choices we expose ourselves to the risk,” said Spicer.

The case investigation team has grown to include 40 people who are working each day to contain the coronavirus.

Case investigators will try to make contact four times with someone who tests positive for Covid-19 or is a close contact. That includes three phone calls and a text message. If they don’t hear back from the four attempts, a letter is sent to the individual.

Kerra Gallagher is a Case and Contact Investigation Group Supervisor and said the increase in cases this fall is a reminder to be prepared.

“The trend is very hard to predict. We didn’t see the same rapid increase after our last holidays. We did after 4th of July, but we have noticed a much slower increase this time,” said Gallagher. “That’s why we have a robust reserve team. People who have already been interviewed. A lot of them have already gone through an introductory training so when we do need them to come in we can do it very rapidly.”

Looking ahead to the holidays, case investigators aren’t sure what to expect but they’re hoping families will take Covid-19 guidance and safety recommendations seriously.

“With the holidays coming up, all these gatherings, I think keeping in mind that if you were to fall ill anyone you were around two days before could’ve been exposed to covid-19 so when you make your plans keeping in mind how many close contacts you could generate if you were to get sick,” said Gallagher.