Public Health is transitioning away from universal contact tracing and case investigations. Information shared from Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services (MDPHHS) with local public health departments stated the shift is based on current circumstances and epidemiology of COVID-19 in Montana and the United States. The information based on a statement released in January by the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (astho) and Council for State and Territorial Epidemiologists (CSTE). The rationale behind the transition is based on several scientific factors that reduce the utility and feasibility of universal case investigation and contact tracing for each COVID-19 case.
These factors include:
· the large number of asymptomatic and mild cases resulting from changes in the virus and widespread vaccination
· many infections are never identified by public health because of the large number of asymptomatic and mild cases in people who do not get tested
· the increasing use of home COVID tests which many don’t get reported to Public Health
· the shorter incubation period of the Omicron variant
· the highest risk of transmission to others occurring prior to symptom onset and during the first few days of symptomatic illness
However, it is still important for epidemiology to obtain case information and one strategy being implemented throughout the state is the use of a survey-based system. JotForm is a free, HIPAA compliant forum that can be individualized for each county and sent to identified cases (positive lab reports) using a text messaging service, EZ Texting. Many health departments have already implemented this system and found that it is user-friendly. Beaverhead County Public Health will begin initiating this process the first week of March. People who test positive using a home test, are strongly urged to report their positive results to MDPHHS by going to the website, hometest.mt.gov. People who obtain their home tests through public health are provided an instruction sheet on what to do if they test positive. On that sheet, there is a QR code that can be scanned to access the website. The survey is quick and easy.
Public Health will continue contacting by phone, prioritized populations such as children 17 and younger, folks 65 and older, hospital staff/patients, long-term care and assisted living facilities.
Public health has received a large number of FREE COVID home tests. We will distribute the tests throughout the county for easier access to the rural community. These tests will be available at public health and within the next two weeks at the following locations.
· Dell Mercantile
· Ralph’s Exxon in Lima
· City of Lima
· Grasshopper Inn in Polaris
· Polaris Post Office
· Jackson Hot Springs
· Goose N Bear in Wisdom
· Wise River Mercantile
· Dewey Bar