Q&A: Tehama County Public Health Nurse On Recent Uptick In COVID-19 Cases
Tehama County has recorded a recent spike in COVID-19 cases, going from 12 to 28 cases over the last week.
NSPR's Andre Byik recently spoke with Michelle Schmidt, supervising public health nurse for the Tehama County Health Services Agency, about the spike, as well as recent tests of Corning's wastewater system for the coronavirus, and who should get tested. Andre started the conversation by asking why cases appear to be rising quickly in the county.
Here are highlights from their conversation.
On why there’s been an uptick in new COVID-19 cases
Basically, we are continuing to have a lot of testing that's going on in our community. So, as we increase with our testing, it's not a surprise to us that we have an increase in the number of cases. And we're finding that we have people that are coming out and socializing, and so at times, there can be groups of individuals that might be like what would be a cluster of people, where there might be several individuals that were at the same location that might come up as being positive. So sometimes that can cause an increase in numbers from that standpoint.
On the process once a positive case is identified
Basically, what our process is is that when we have a positive case, we try to identify who individuals have come in close contact with that person that's tested positive. And at that point in time, we encourage, besides putting them on quarantine to try to prevent the possible spread of the infection — we put them on a 14-day quarantine — we also encourage them to get tested at that point in time. And there have been instances where we have some of those individuals that have been close contacts have tested positive.
And I know there's been some confusion in the past, like if a group of 30 people have been at a party that we're considering all 30 of them, if just one person's positive, that we consider all of them as being cases and that's inaccurate information. Basically, the only folks that get calculated as being cases in our county is that we have a confirmed test, you know, nasal pharyngeal swab test that's come up that they're positive for the COVID-19 virus and that's the only way that they get counted as positives.
But we do contact tracing, and we encourage those individuals to be tested. And so there are times when those individuals might come up as being positive as well.
On where positive cases are originating
It's looking like it's more private gatherings that we're identifying at this point in time and not necessarily a specific industry focus from that standpoint.
More on what happens in the contact tracing process
Once we identify that we have individuals that are close contacts, then we basically have them go into quarantine, which means they are asked to stay at home and on their premises for 14 days. And we are doing active monitoring with them on a daily basis to check and see if they are having any symptoms that might be appearing during that timeframe.
We also encourage them to get tested during that timeframe, so we can identify if they might already have the coronavirus. We try to basically get the circle of individuals that have been in close contact with the individual that's positive and try to prevent the spread. If we can keep them contained until they are through that potential infectious process, and that's why we go with the 14 days is that then we can potentially come from the standpoint that, you know, that that's stopping the spread from that case. So that's why we always encourage everyone that comes up as positive that they share with us all of their contacts so that we can try to help mitigate the spread of the disease from that standpoint.
On wastewater testing conducted in May
It basically just is kind of a test that can give us potentially an idea of the prevalence of the spread of the disease within the certain communities that that wastewater has been retrieved from, and I can't speak directly to all the science of it from that standpoint, but basically, as people have coronavirus, that's going to come out of their bodies and one of the ways that it does come out of their bodies is through fecal matter, and so then that can be picked up on those wastewater testing.
I want to make sure that everybody's clear that it's not in the water that they're drinking. It's basically wastewater. So as somebody has the coronavirus, and, that's one of the way that that the virus leaves the body is through feces and that's picked up in the wastewater from that standpoint.
On whether the wastewater findings could be evidence of community spread
It could be definitely an evidence of community spread from the standpoint of if you're seeing higher numbers, then that would be potentially that there's others that are out there. We're strongly encouraging people to go and get tested because we could have several of our individuals out and about that have COVID-19 but that are potentially asymptomatic. So like right now our numbers — of the 28 positive cases that we have in our community, 17 of those were asymptomatic and 11 had symptoms. So we can see from that standpoint that we have quite a few, even of the people that have tested positive, that they were asymptomatic. So that's why we really want to encourage people that even if they don't feel sick, that they still go ahead and go get tested, so that we can try to identify those individuals that might be positive. And just as I said earlier, to try to help mitigate the spread of those of the virus to others from that standpoint. The more that we can get tested and try to mitigate that spread, the better. That's going to cause our numbers to kind of stabilize out from that standpoint, and we won't have to have an upsurge of cases.
On how often people should get tested
It's kind of up to every person's perspective. I definitely feel like if you're in a high risk area where you're coming in close contact with individuals that might be sick, then we would strongly encourage individuals to be tested more frequently, but I think, you could potentially say somebody could test every 14 days, if that was something that they felt that they wanted to keep doing from that standpoint, but there's not really any set mandate out there as to regards to how frequently somebody should be testing.
Definitely if you start feeling signs or symptoms, then we strongly encourage you to get tested at that point in time, for sure. We have a great resource right now, as we have our OptumServe testing sites in-county, which is a great resource of Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. till 7 p.m. that we have open slots available for people to go get tested. And the more the more we can get tested within our community to identify how many people we do have that helps us to get more data with regards to the prevalence of the disease in our community.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity. Click the “play” button to listen to the entire interview.