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Kaitlyn Gracz stands next to a tent used for COVID-19 testing at Bayside Docs Urgent Care in Traverse City in October.

TRAVERSE CITY — Health officials with Grand Traverse County Health Department announced Thursday they will prioritize the most high-risk cases of COVID-19 as the pandemic reaches widespread community spread.

The new plan leaves most county residents who test positive for the novel coronavirus to manage their own isolation and notification of close contacts for themselves. Public health officers will focus on the most high-risk cases and situations.

"Over the past month, we have seen a rapid increase in the number of new daily cases in our region and county. When community transmission becomes so widespread, our strategies need to pivot to have the most impact," said Wendy Hirschenberger, health officer. "This approach involves quickly identifying and investigating high-priority cases such as those who potentially increase the risk for further spread."

Priority cases and situations include:

  • acute and outpatient healthcare workers;
  • people under age 22 years;
  • anyone linked to a school (includes childcare facilities, K-12 schools, and colleges);
  • people over age 65 years;
  • anyone linked to an acute care, skilled nursing or long-term care facility; and,
  • any time a death has occurred.

Health officials said they also will take the recency of the case into account.

COVID-19 cases have increased by an average of more than 27 cases per day since Nov. 1, which health workers said has taxed the capacity of disease investigation workers to contact all who test positive and their close contacts.

Hirschenberger said they cannot keep up with this pace of COVID-19 spread.

“We need the community’s help with the surge we are currently experiencing in order to help control it. Even working at full capacity, seven days a week, health department staff are unable to investigate all positive cases and notify close contacts quickly," she said in a released statement.

Health officials ask anyone who tests positive for COVID-19 to:

  • Immediately self-isolate, avoiding contact with others for at least 10 days since symptoms began (or since they took the test if there are no symptoms). They must additionally see an improvement in symptoms and be fever-free without use of medications for 24 hours before ending isolation;
  • Notify their close contacts. Close contacts are people who were within 6 feet of the COVID-19 positive person for a total of 15 minutes or more two days before the person developed symptoms (or two days prior to that person taking the test if there are no symptoms). Close contacts must quarantine for the full 14 days regardless of symptoms or their test results; and,
  • Follow all instructions in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19 to others.

More than 500 new cases have been identified since Nov. 1 and average daily case counts quadrupled from the beginning of October. The percentage of those who test positive roughly tripled during the last month, increasing from 3.4 percent to 10 percent as of Nov. 16, statistics show.

Additionally, most reporting entities are lagging in the referrals of positive lab reports, officials said.

Follow www.record-eagle.com for more updates.

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