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Transcript of JoCo on the Go podcast 05/11/2020

Theresa Freed [00:00:00] On this episode, you'll hear why it may be more important than ever that the county closely monitor the spread of COVID-19 as the county slowly lifts its stay-at-home order in a phased approach. Johnson County Department of Health and Environment staff is hard at work, increasing testing capacity and contact tracing. Find out how identifying when and where a person who tests positive for the virus has been can play a key role in stopping the spread.

Announcer [00:00:26] Whether you live in or just love Johnson County, JoCo on the Go has everything Johnson County. Here's what's happening and what's coming up in the community you call home.

Theresa Freed [00:00:39] Thanks for joining us for JoCo on the Go. I'm your host, Theresa Freed a Johnson County resident and an employee of Johnson County government. This week, some businesses around the county are reopening under phase one of the governor's plan. If all goes well, phase two will soon follow. Under phase one, physical distancing is still important and limiting gatherings to 10 or less. But you can now visit restaurants and retail establishments among some other businesses. Life certainly isn't back to normal, but Johnson County has done a great job flattening the curve. So our efforts to slow the spread have paid off. What the county doesn't want to see happen as we scale back protective measures is a second wave of positive cases and deaths. Here to talk about steps the county is taking to continue to slow the spread is Johnson County Department of Health and Environment Epidemiologist Elizabeth Holzschuh. First question, what is the data showing us as far as trends of improvement in containing the spread?

Elizabeth Holzschuh [00:01:34] So all of our metrics per the White House's gating criteria, and those are the criteria that we are using to determine if we are ready to reopen our community. All of those are looking really good. And those are things like the percent of all of our tests that are positive. And seeing that rate go down, the number of new cases, the number of hospitalizations and the number of deaths, we have seen great improvement and all of those metrics since the stay-at-home order was implemented.

Theresa Freed [00:02:01] So what are we expecting for the spread of COVID-19 as we roll back the stay-at-home order?

Elizabeth Holzschuh [00:02:05] We have every reason to believe that as we roll back the stay-at-home water and more of our residents and community members are out in the community, that we will see an increase in the number of cases individuals who are symptomatic with coronavirus.

Theresa Freed [00:02:18] How does contact tracing impact our ability to contain the disease?

Elizabeth Holzschuh [00:02:22] Contact tracing is a really integral part to our ability to limit the spread. And the way that this works is when an individual is positive for coronavirus. We interview that person to find out information about their disease, about their health. And then we also look at everywhere they've been in the last 14 days prior to the onset of symptoms and who they've come in contact with since they've developed symptoms, people they could have passed that virus to. And once we have that list of names of everybody they've been in contact with. We have individuals who call all of their contacts, find out whether they have also developed symptoms and recommend that they stay home for 14 days from their last contact, which can help limit the spread to additional members of our community.

Theresa Freed [00:03:00] What's the best way for people to help identify anyone they've been in contact with while they may have been contagious?

Elizabeth Holzschuh [00:03:07] Yeah, a really simple way is just keeping a notebook and just each day jotting down what you did and who you were around. And it sounds very time consuming, but it's really not. If you saw a couple of friends, just jot down who they were. And really what we're looking for are people you've spent 10 minutes or more around that's going to be that close contact where really we expect the virus to be spread from one person to another. We'll talk to our investigators. We keep all of the information that we receive sort of under lock and key. It's all HIPA protected. We do not share your information out beyond who absolutely needs to see that as part of the control of coronavirus. So when you hear if you get a voicemail from one of our investigators, please return that phone call. That's really critical to be able to try and slow the spread of this disease.

Theresa Freed [00:03:48] And how has that process changed from the start of the outbreak back in March in Johnson County to where we are today?

Elizabeth Holzschuh [00:03:55] Yeah, absolutely. So we have been doing contact tracing really from the beginning. This is a pretty core tenet of public health. We've done it a variety of different diseases and we do it every day. The the work that is going on has remained fairly similar to what we've been doing. How are just some of our processes have changed. We've really tried to leverage technology and text messaging as we identify more cases and thus more contacts. We really need to be able to utilize our human resources to the best of our ability. And so that's really using technology to try and supplement that.

Theresa Freed [00:04:24] And we're hearing volunteers can help with contact tracing. Is health and environment recruiting for these rules and how can people get involved?

Elizabeth Holzschuh [00:04:31] We're still trying to figure out exactly how we're going to meet our capacity needs. We have a plan for what we believe we're going to need and are really exploring those different avenues.

Theresa Freed [00:04:39] Now, how does DHC notify someone who has been in contact with someone else who's tested positive for COVID-19? So what should they expect?

Elizabeth Holzschuh [00:04:47] You'll receive a phone call from one of our contact tracers and they're going to ask just a few questions. Your name, your date of birth, a cell phone, numbers that we can text you whether or not you've developed any symptoms. And then each day for the time that you need to be quarantined and really staying at home. You will receive a text message. And it's just a very simple. Have you developed symptoms, yes or no? And if you have developed symptoms, you can expect another phone call from one of our staff members to follow up with you. And if you don't, then you are all set.

Theresa Freed [00:05:16] After those 14 days, we know time is critical. So if you're tested for COVID-19, how quickly can you expect those results to come back in?

Elizabeth Holzschuh [00:05:24] Yeah, unfortunately it varies pretty dramatically whether depending on where those tests are being run. The Kansas Department of Health and Environmental Laboratories where Johnson County sends a number of their specimens, gets turned around and about 12 to 24 hours. So a very quick turnaround time. However, we know some of our private labs can take 5 7 days to turn those test results around.

Theresa Freed [00:05:43] And once Johnson County Department of Health and Environment has those results, how quickly is the affected person notified about those results?

Elizabeth Holzschuh [00:05:50] So we really try to reach out at least one time to all of our positive cases within 24 hours of receiving their lab results. And basically, once we get that information from the case, from the positive individual about who their contacts are, those very quickly get pushed to our contact tracers. And so within another 24 hours, the contacts would also receive a phone call.

Theresa Freed [00:06:10] The White House, of course, established gating criteria, and that's been referenced at the state and county level as well. So can you talk a little bit about that?

Elizabeth Holzschuh [00:06:17] Yeah. So our dashboard has a gating criteria tab which looks at those trends over time, particularly those 14 days. And we are seeing a decline in all of those metrics, which is really what we're looking for in terms of reopening. But we're gonna have to pay close attention as we do reopen, as we do see more spread in our community, whether or not we're ready to move on to that next phase and how we are doing. We are hoping to roll out a very simple-to-read sort of stoplight dashboard. So basically for each one of the gating criteria, red, yellow or green, how are we doing? Are we sort of in a cautionary period? Are we doing really poorly? So is our numbers going up at a at a rate that is concerning in terms of moving forward? And we're hoping to push that out so that anybody who can who wants to jump on to our dashboard can see very quickly how we're doing in terms of those metrics.

Theresa Freed [00:07:05] Now, the dashboard you mentioned is available on Jocogov.org/coronavirus. It's updated every morning, seven days a week and has expanded since it was first posted to add clarity and the information that people are really seeking to make informed decisions about healthcare and other services. It's also a great tool for the public. Just curious about whether things are improving. So we're all, of course, very hopeful that the phases of rolling back the stay-at-home order will go smoothly. But if we do see a dramatic increase in cases, what's the impact there?

Elizabeth Holzschuh [00:07:35] There needs to be a serious look at whether or not we move to that next phase. I think that we definitely need to keep in mind our healthcare system. And unfortunately, the way coronavirus spreads, it can spread exponentially. So it means that just really rapid growth in the number of cases is what we've seen in other jurisdictions, in other countries. And so we just want to make sure that does not occur here. It's really to protect our healthcare system, to ensure they don't become overwhelmed.

Theresa Freed [00:08:00] From what we've seen so far is Johnson County ready to reopen in this phased approach?

Elizabeth Holzschuh [00:08:03] And so I think that Johnson County numbers do look good. And I think that we have pushed very hard to obtain the number of specimen kits or specimen collection kits or the swabs and the tubes that we really need to be able to really test anybody who is symptomatic. And that's a key piece to this, is we need to be able to test widely. And I think that our stay-at-home order has really provided us the time to get to that point. And so I do think that Johnson County's data look good. However, we know that that's not the case in the rest of the metro. So we're seeing outbreaks in different jurisdictions and industries in these large meatpacking plants, like the one up in Buchanan County, where there have been a lot of positives. And that's really impacting our jurisdictions to the north and to the east and understanding that we live in a very interconnected community. We have I believe it's two hundred and fifty thousand individuals who go in and out of our county every day for work and for the amenities that we provide means that if spread is going uncontrolled in these other jurisdictions, that can trickle into our community and affect our workers and our residents. So while, yes, Johnson County's data do look very good. There are some concerns about what's happening around us and what that impact may be moving forward.

Theresa Freed [00:09:12] We know just from some of the questions and comments that we're seeing on social media, people are concerned about leaving home, going back to their place of employment. And I know in Johnson County, this will be a slow process of reopening businesses and doing things differently. Additional cleaning, maintaining physical distancing, that sort of thing. What can residents do to lower the risk of getting sick?

Elizabeth Holzschuh [00:09:31] And so is the same public health messages that we've been providing for the last two months. Keep your distance. So you really want to stay six feet or more away from other individuals in that distance that we think that's the virus is spread. And wearing a cough mask is a great way to protect other individuals. And part of the reason why we recommend the cloth mask is because people who are either asymptomatic or pretty symptomatic so either don't have symptoms or are right before their symptoms begin can spread this virus. So even if you're feeling well, you may be spreading it just by talking to other individuals. So wearing that cloth mask, keeping your distance, using good hand hygiene, washing your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds. All of those are great ways to help protect yourself and others around you.

Theresa Freed [00:10:15] You can get much more, including data, as we mentioned, and then also information about which businesses are reopening in which phases. That's at jocogov.org/coronavirus.

Announcer [00:10:25] You just heard JoCo on the Go. Join us next time for more everything Johnson County. Have a topic you want to discuss, we want to hear from you. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter at JoCoGov. For more on this podcast, visit jocogov.org/podcast. Thanks for listening.