SOLANO COUNTY, Calif. (KTXL) – California’s public health departments have been busy pinpointing the source of COVID-19 infections and notifying people who may have been exposed to the virus.
Solano County Public Health Officer Bela Matyas began learning about COVID-19 as it was spreading in his community back in February.
Matyas told FOX40 Wednesday he quickly learned that tracking the virus from its source would be key to mitigation, a process known as contact tracing.
“You learn about a case, you learn as much as you can about them, try to figure out where they got it and then you try to figure out who they could have passed it to,” explained Matyas.
After the first community spread COVID-19 infection in Solano County, public health officials contact traced more than 300 people across six California counties who may have been exposed.
At the time, health officials didn’t know if COVID-19 spread through the air or through respiratory droplets, a question they had to test to determine.
“One of the things we learned is that there was no evidence of airborne spread,” recalled Matyas. “That all of the people who she actually passed the infection to were people with close respiratory droplet exposures. But we also learned that it’s also pretty infectious.”
Since February, Matyas and his team have been spending their days acting more like detectives, interviewing those who contracted the virus, questioning their close contacts and notifying anyone else who may have become infected.
“Because it’s really important to find those people, find out who among them is sick, so they can be isolated and find out where all of them work, so that you don’t have to worry about introduction into a high-risk environment,” said Matyas.
Matyas said the process takes both time and resources that a mid-sized county like Solano is grateful to have.
“We have brought in from the rest of the health department dozens of people to assist with our overall outbreak response, including contact tracing,” said Matyas. “And the truth is, a lot of smaller counties don’t have those people to begin with. So it’s much more challenging for them.”
Managing the novel coronavirus in the U.S. would require 30 contract tracers for every 100,000 people, according to the National Association of County and City Health Officials.
Those numbers are an overwhelming request for smaller cities and counties, but health officials say it is necessary to controlling the pandemic.
“You have to be prepared to go the full distance or you’re not going to do justice for the process,” said Matyas.
Centers of Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield said in a Senate hearing Tuesday that contact tracing will be “the difference from succeeding in containing this outbreak from wide-scale community transmission or not.”