The Bristol-Burlington Health District is busy following up on contact tracing for a Bristol Eastern High School student who tested positive for covid-19.
Superintendent Catherine Carbone sent out a letter to BEHS families and school staff Monday afternoon, saying the student was last in school Sept. 11 before experiencing symptoms last weekend.
Carbone said the school district is working with local health officials to identify individuals who had been in close contact with the student and those individuals would be required to quarantine for 14 days.
Marco Palmeri, health district director, said he can’t comment on a particular case but “we are contact tracing almost 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with regards to all of Bristol and Burlington, not just school related activities.”
“Our staff here are experts on contact tracing and we are following up on every lead to ensure that people here aren’t getting exposed to anyone unnecessarily,” he said. “Contact tracing is a very difficult job, and it takes a lot of time and patience to put the puzzle together and often there are 20 to 30 people that need to be contacted just with regards to one potential scenario.”
Palmeri said most people contacted by the contact tracers are cooperating.
“There are some that claim to have no knowledge of the person that was identified as the close contact,” he said. “We just say ‘Listen, I don’t know why this person would mention you if they don’t know you and you don’t know them but you were identified as a close contact and unless you can prove otherwise you’re going to need to quarantine for 14 days.’”
“Eventually they realize this is something they need to take seriously and after some coaching and education for the most part they comply,” he said. “It’s always a challenge, but you learn how to work through these challenges, and my contact tracers really take their job seriously.”
Contacts often have to be located far beyond the borders of Bristol or Burlington, he noted. “We have cases that stretch through many communities in the state, and sometimes out of state. We often have to manage folks that don’t necessarily live in our jurisdiction but work in here in a facility that is high risk and has a great potential to spread the infection, but this is what we do and we’ve got it,” he said.
Palmeri said the approach of flu season brings added complications, especially since the symptoms are similar to those of covid-19.
“It’s a huge challenge but our mitigation strategies are also very similar for both coronavirus and the influenza virus because they’re both spread the same way. We don’t have to change our messaging - we just say ‘wash your hands often, cover your cough, avoid close contact with sick people, and stay home whenever you’re sick,’” he said.
On the plus side, he pointed out that the mitigation strategies for covid-19 could also help lessen the impact of the flu this winter.
“That’s an interesting thing to keep an eye on and we are certainly hoping with our fingers crossed that that works. Time will tell because we’re still at the beginning of the flu season. We really don’t have any data yet, we have cases but nothing significant,” he said.
Palmeri noted that people also currently need to watch out for West Nile virus and Eastern Equine Encephalitis (“Triple E”), both of which also have similar symptoms to covid-19 and the flu, but which are spread to people through the bite of infected mosquitoes during the warm weather months.
Susan Corica can be reached at 860-973-1802 or email@example.com.