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Tips from a COVID-19 Case Investigator

By LINDSEY FENNER

For the past two months, I have been reassigned  as a COVID-19 Case Investigator. This means that everyday I have conversations with people who have tested positive for COVID-19. Over the next few months, I will share tips and ideas from this experience. This month, I want to introduce everyone to what a Case Investigator does and what you should know if you get a call from one.

What happens when I test positive? 

After a positive test for COVID-19, you should be getting two phone calls: one phone call from the clinic where you got tested, and another phone call from a case investigator from the State of Minnesota Department of Health or a local public health agency. 

Why do we call?

We want to give you information about isolation and quarantine. I spend most of my time answering questions, talking through what isolation might look like, and making sure families have what they need to isolate and to stop the spread of COVID-19 to others. We also provide letters for work or school and can connect people with resources for essential needs while they are in isolation.

We also need to gather information to help understand this new virus and keep people safe. We only share private information with other people working in public health, like epidemiologists and other public health and infectious disease experts.We also want to make sure everyone you had contact with while potentially infectious has the information they need to quarantine. We usually ask you to communicate quarantine information with friends and family. We do follow-up with workplaces if someone worked while they were infectious, but only so the workplace knows what to do to keep everyone safe. We only share your name with your permission. 

What should I know about the questions you ask? 

There is a reason behind every question we ask. Some questions help us understand how the virus is spreading. For example, we only knew about clusters of cases at different Minneapolis bars because different people told us where and when they went out. Because of this information, we were able to inform the public that anyone who went to those bars should isolate and get tested. Other questions help us understand what occupations might be more hazardous or how different communities are being impacted by COVID-19.

How can I be prepared when someone calls me from the Public Health Department?

  • Think about your symptoms and see if you can remember the specific date for when you first started to feel sick. We use that symptom onset date to figure out how you got exposed to COVID-19 AND to know when you were likely infectious.
  • Think through all of the places and people with whom you would have had close contact two weeks before you started to feel sick AND ten days after you started to feel sick. 
  • Get permission from anyone you may have caught the virus from OR any close contacts while you were infectious to share their name with public health authorities. We usually only contact them if you are unable to, but it is important for us to get names so we can connect cases and understand how the virus is spreading.
  • Answer the phone! Our goal is to call everyone in the State of MN who has had a positive test result within 24 hours of that result being reported to the state. We really need to talk to you, so we will keep calling! But it will save us all time if you pick up the phone on the first call. There are many different public health agencies working on this, but people who call should clearly identify themselves as calling from the Minnesota Department of Health, or a local jurisdiction like Minneapolis or Hennepin County. We NEVER ask for social security numbers or bank account information.  If you have questions related to the COVID-19 pandemic, call the Minnesota Helpline: 651-297-1304 or 1-800-657-3504 Mon.-Fri.: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. or visit https://mn.gov/covid19/ add period here (?)
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