ROCHESTER, Minn. — From "social distancing" to "N95s," the coronavirus carries with it a whole new vocabulary. And another phrase you should learn is "contact tracing."
Contact tracing is finding out all the people who've come into direct contact with someone who's infected. It's important because those people can be notified that they too might be carrying the virus.
"It's one of the key things we can do to make sure that if those employees develop COVID, they don't pass it on anyone else," said Dr. Laura Breeher, medical director for the Mayo Clinic's Occupational Heath Services.
With their IT staff -- Mayo just developed a high-tech way to conduct their own internal contact tracing.
With a centralized database, they create a "contact log" of everyone who's had contact with a patient or staff member who tests positive for COVID-19.
Each of them are then sent a questionnaire to see if they wore protective equipment during the exposure.
Workers with medium or high-risk exposures are then sent home.
And it all takes less than 2 hours.
"So we're trying to catch every single employee before they would present for their next shift if they were potentially exposed," Breeher said.
The State Health Department does contact tracing for every case by phone using a team of 92 people, working 16 hours a day, 7 days a week.
They believe doing it voice-to-voice will continue to be their most efficient way to do it.
"We're working with each individual to talk about the type of exposure they've had and what it means for the type of quarantining they need to be doing," said Kris Ehresmann, Director of the Infectious Disease Epidemiology, Prevention, and Control Division at the Minnesota Department of Health
Medical experts see expanded contact tracing as an important element of living with coronavirus until a vaccine is developed.
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The state of Minnesota has set up a hotline for general questions about coronavirus at 651-201-3920 or 1-800-657-3903, available 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. There is also a data portal online at mn.gov/covid19.