Grand Traverse County Visitors Test Positive for COVID-19
"It’s going to be an ongoing concern."
Two out-of-state visitors came to Grand Traverse County for the Memorial Day weekend—and they brought the coronavirus with them.
Because the two positive cases aren’t local residents, they won’t be included in the case count here. Health Officer Wendy Hirschenberger says that’s standard practice across the country.
The Health Department says the two visitors were on their way to visit family for the holiday. The husband and wife were coming to Grand Traverse County.
“It’s a male and female in their 30’s. He was mildly symptomatic, she became symptomatic—quite symptomatic and quite ill during the travel,” Hirschenberger says.
“Luckily they did not go out and about in the community. They were here to visit family,” Hirschenberger says. “And we were able to identify six family members who they had been in contact with who live locally. And they are all quarantining now during their potential incubation period.”
This is what’s known as “contact tracing”. It’s not as high-tech or invasive as some people may think. The health department says they aren’t tracking your every move and there’s no chip in your cell phone following you around. It’s a simple phone call and a conversation.
Hirschenberger says, “Contact tracing is really a public health nurse, really asking questions once you are identified as being symptomatic or sick: where have you been, who have you been around?”
Disease Control and Prevention Program Supervisor Erin Johnson adds, “When we do find out we have a positive case or confirmed case…we interview that positive case and we find out about activities they’ve been involved in, places they’ve gone, people they’ve been around. It’s that phone call, that in-person phone call. You’d be hearing from someone at the local health department or state health department.”
The CDC defines a close contact as someone who is within 6 feet of an infected person for at least 15 minutes, and that would lead to a 14-day quarantine.
Johnson says, “We could help you problem solve and find a safe place to be if you’re in quarantine.”
And the phrase “community exposure” is not the same as “close contact.”
Hirschenberger says an interaction or “passing” at the gas station or grocery store “may be an exposure, but it’s a very brief and extremely low-risk exposure. So those are very hard to track down.”
In this case, Hirschenberger says the husband was able to get into a hotel room with a “contactless key exchange,” and if he needs food or other items they can be left at his door to avoid further interactions with others.
Johnson says the goal of Contact Tracing is simple: “Really, what it’s allowing us to do is stop that transmission from going further. We’re able to identify those close contacts and keep them from going to work, the grocery store. Prevent it from spreading in that regard.”
With the busy summer season and the expectation for more visitors, the health department says this is going to be an ongoing concern. But all things considered, with only direct family exposure, this was probably a good outcome, Hirschenberger says.
“Luckily, no big community exposure on this, but a good example of how it could happen. (And) a reminder of why you shouldn’t travel when you’re ill, and there is inherent risk during this pandemic of having people come visit you and stay with you.”
While this case is not counted in the Grand Traverse County data, the Health Department will keep records to determine the existence of the virus in the community. “We’ll have to figure out a way, if not to count that, to track it. It definitely shows up in our contact tracing numbers.”