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Moritz: Cases strain county’s capacity to contact-trace on it own

NEW ULM — Brown County Public Health will join the South Central Regional Coordination Center to do COVID-19 case investigation and contact tracing, according to a press release by Brown County Public Health Director Karen Moritz.

Cases in Brown County have grown exponentially and despite onboarding additional staff, “we are now at the point where we do not have the capacity to be successful independently,” said Moritz.

“Our staff is extremely fatigued, and it is an insurmountable amount of stress. We are not able to be as comprehensive and have abandoned several of the thorough processes we were doing before the surge in cases. Our experience is not unique; the entire state is experiencing the same thing,” said Moritz.

Brown County Public Health has done case investigation and contact tracing for Brown County COVID 19 cases and contacts since May, said Moritz.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, the goals of case investigation and contact tracing have remained the same: to contact people who have or were exposed to COVID-19, help and define people who need to isolate themselves to prevent spreading the virus and educate people on reducing their risk, said Moritz.

Brown County Public Health was “very successful” with this process until about two weeks ago, said Moritz.

“We have been efficient and effective in getting cases called and usually interviewed within 24-48 hours and making connections with social and workplace contacts

“Through this process we have been able to efficiently work with schools, as well, related to cases and quarantine that affect schools. It has been a great benefit in slowing the spread of COVID 19 in Brown County,” said Moritz.

Brown County’s positivity rate stayed low as compared to the rest of the state until the last two weeks.

Brown County Public Health will join the existing South Central Case Investigation and Contact Tracing Regional Coordination Center to get additional support for this work. The coordination center is directed by the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH), which is supported by a vendor to assist with training and scheduling organization. MDH is working to quickly onboard additional staff to meet the demands of exponential case growth statewide.

By joining this coordination center, BCPH still maintains the ability to continue to complete Brown county cases as staff are able, said Moritz. Once capacity is reached, other staff in the regional coordination center will assist in completing those additional cases, said Moritz.

“We are still able to do the cases in Brown County to our capacity and then other staff in the coordination center will assist us. We expect that for the next few weeks the regional coordination center will still be behind in getting Brown County cases called but they have a greater ability of onboarding and training staff quickly than we do independently.”

Brown County will still work with the school in consultation on all cases and quarantine even if they do not investigate every case and with employers and businesses that have cases and need additional assistance with contact tracing and guidance.

“There will be less stress on staff,” said Moritz. “We will be able to better focus on the other areas of the response as well including preparing for vaccination and prioritized distribution. If we have staff that are affected by the illness, quarantined, or need to assist their children with any distance learning we are better able to support them.”

“As we transition to this model and get caught up with case investigation, we are asking the public to follow isolation and quarantine guidelines until we can get cases called and work with them on their isolation dates and help them notify their close contacts with quarantine information,” said Moritz.

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