This team of public health detectives tracks every COVID-19 case to stop spread of virus

Published: Apr. 23, 2020 at 10:19 AM HST|Updated: Apr. 23, 2020 at 10:21 AM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - “I just wanted to inform you that you may have been exposed to someone who tested positive for coronavirus.”

Lauren Usagawa has said those words to hundreds of people during the last three months as one of the state’s contact tracers.

She interviews someone who has tested positive to find out who they could have infected — and then she calls and interviews each of those people.

“How close were they? What did they do? Were they having dinner with them? Where they sitting next to them? That kind of thing,” she said.

It’s a process that has been done for every positive case in Hawaii.

“For every case we have identified contacts and we have records of those contacts and the history for every one of those five hundred and something cases,” state Health Director Bruce Anderson told lawmakers Wednesday.

Anderson said each of those close contacts who may have been exposed has been tested.

Contact tracing was vital in identifying the cluster at Maui Memorial Medical Center.

“For every one of those confirmed cases, we have household members we have contacted. We have friends. They’ve had travel histories,” said Anderson. “We’ve tried to find out where they were going to go, so we have another 20 people probably contacted for every one of those.”

Big Island contact tracers were assisted by public health nurses and Oahu investigators in tracking down the large number of people involved in the cluster at the McDonalds restaurants in Kona.

“I think we have a very good contact tracing program,” said Anderson.

“We probably have the best program of anyone in the country, in terms of the number of cases and the staff we have available to do this kind of work.”

It’s kept contact tracers busy at all hours, seven days a week, although the job has been easing up a little because of the stay-at-home orders around the state.

“The last few weeks have been a little bit easier because it’s only been household contacts, their close family,” said Usagawa. “They’re all home already so it’s been a little bit easier.”

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