Samaritan Saturday: Contact tracers fight COVID in Carbondale

By Elena Schauwecker, Staff Reporter

A team of 18 healthcare workers at Jackson County Health Department is serving the community by tracking down and notifying anyone who has been in contact with COVID-19.

 The contact tracing division consists of a group of people who come from diverse backgrounds in healthcare, public health and mental health. Several members of the team are SIU students and alumni. 

 Jawaun Valentine, a class of 2020 SIU graduate who joined Jackson County Health Department in July, explained what a typical day as a contact tracer consists of. 

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 “We receive our positive cases to contact. We make contact with them, and then we contact their office of employment to make sure they know someone is under isolation. We contact the family members if they’re in the same household and give them guidance,” Valentine said. 

 Valentine also said part of his job is issuing supplies such as thermometers, Tylenol, masks and gloves to families that need help. This helps to slow the spread of COVID in underprivileged communities.

 Ashley Edelin, another SIU alumnus, is now working as a case investigator for the contact tracing team. She specializes in the school system with both K-12 students and SIU students. 

 “When we get students that are in school, I would follow up with that school, make sure they are aware that there was a student who tested positive. I might work with the school and see if there are any other students who have been exposed,” Edelin said.

 Edelin said she always makes sure to connect everyone with the resources they need, whether it is mental health counseling or a healthcare physician. 

 Shawna Debolt, the contact tracing division supervisor, said that contact tracing is not new to Jackson County. The department is also home to the Regional HIV/AIDS Care Connect division as well as a team who managed infectious disease spread. These existing programs are still up and running. 

 “When COVID-19 happened, they kind of were at the helm of the management of COVID-19 and helped to hire and recruit and train the current contact tracing team” Debolt said of the infectious disease response team. “They had created the initial process for us to follow.”

 Debolt also said that all members of the team are kept as safe as possible working in contact with COVID, and everyone is always sure to wear masks and social distance at work. Much of the contact with known positives is done via email or phone, and any supply deliveries are contactless. 

 Debolt said she encourages everyone in the community to continue to follow CDC guidelines such as wearing masks, limiting social gatherings and practicing good hygiene. 

 The team also commented on the importance of the vaccine in stopping COVID-19. It is expected that the vaccine supply will increase over the course of the next few weeks, and the contact tracers expressed their hope that everyone will soon be able to receive one. 

 Valentine addressed concerns about the safety of the vaccine and the necessity of people getting it as soon as possible. He said he understands that with the intensity and the quickness of the vaccine’s development, people are concerned about what they are putting into their bodies. 

 “Even with that fear, I’d say that it’s a safer bet to go ahead and take that vaccine rather than take your chances with COVID. Because the one will give you a headache and maybe some soreness in your arm, and the other could put you on a ventilator and make you never see your family again,” Valentine said. 

 The contact tracing team will continue to work hard until COVID has been eradicated in Jackson County. Valentine, Edelin and Debolt agree that their goal can be accomplished if the Jackson County community continues to take precautions against the virus.  

  Staff reporter Elena Schauwecker can be reached at [email protected]

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