Contact tracing key to overcoming COVID-19

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Jackson Manske
  • Air University Public Affairs

Ever since the United States declared a public health emergency due to the COVID-19 pandemic in February of 2020, the 42nd Medical Group public health team has worked at high gear to protect Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama.

Public health Airmen are responsible for medically processing all deployers, ensuring all food products served on base are safe to consume and safeguarding the health of beneficiaries and employees through preventive medicine, education, counseling and surveillance testing. One of the challenges public health Airmen have had to overcome is balancing essential and non-essential services. 

“We have had to shift our focus with the increase of COVID cases,” said Staff Sgt. Monique Wright, the public health noncommissioned officer in charge. “Many days we are only able to do contact tracing and reporting of COVID cases and must put our non-essential duties to the side. Our work hours have also increased as we oftentimes continue to do contact tracing on nights, weekends, and holidays.”

Contact tracing is the process of interviewing patients that test positive for COVID-19 to determine where they contracted the virus and if they have exposed anyone else to the virus. Once identified, public health technicians ensure those affected begin a quarantine and get tested for the virus.

“Contact tracing helps to slow down the spread of COVID-19 by identifying those that may have been exposed to the virus and instructing them to quarantine,” said Wright. “Contact tracing also allows us to determine if there are outbreaks in certain work centers or communities. When this does occur, we reach out to leadership and provide risk mitigation plans.”

In December alone, the 42nd MDG handled a record number of COVID-19 cases. 

“For each positive case, we sometimes have as many as eight to ten close contacts which can include co-workers, family members, and friends,” said Wright. “Contacting each person and instructing them to quarantine and get tested as well as sending them quarantine orders can be quite time consuming.”

The work of the public health team hasn’t gone unnoticed.

“One of our biggest accomplishments so far is that we were lauded by the MAJCOM for being the only public health flight in AETC to properly report all of our cases in the Air Force Disease Reporting System internet within the required time,” said Wright.

Chief Master Sgt. Michelle Castro, 42nd MDG superintendent, commended the public health team for their efforts.

“They have been the backbone of the installation as we continue to fight through COVID,” said Castro. “The team has been getting after it non-stop since day one. Calling patients in isolation for daily status checks to ensure patients receive proper care if their symptoms worsen. They help patients through rough days and offer a friendly voice during a patient’s isolation.  The fact that they have continued to kill it with such a positive attitude is why they are the epitome of Trusted Care Guardians.”