Butler County overwhelmed with the surge in COVID-19 cases, asking for residents’ help

The Butler County General Health District is so inundated with COVID-19 cases they are asking most residents who become infected to do their own contact tracing.

There have been 17,317 positive cases since the pandemic hit in mid-March, as of Tuesday. The state’s dashboard as of Wednesday reported 675 hospitalizations and 152 deaths for the county. Cases surged in November with 4,659 reported in just the first three weeks.

Health Commissioner Jennifer Bailer said in the wake of the Thanksgiving holiday, she is expecting cases to increase mid-to-late-week, and the trend will likely continue into January.

The epidemiologist from her office, Jordan Luttrell-Freeman, said the numbers they report are just the ones they know about, and not everyone contacts the health district.

“In a surge situation like we are experiencing now across the county, region and state, people should assume everyone they meet is likely to have COVID,” Luttrell-Freeman said. “As of today, one out of every 130 people in Butler County is estimated have an active infection with COVID and is capable of spreading it to others.”

Bailer said due to the “unprecedented” high number of cases, even with more than 150 contact tracers, they can’t continue to call every person who may have been in contact with someone who tests positive.

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When people test positive for the coronavirus, the health district and departments are tasked with contacting them and they have been quarantining others with whom they might have been in contact.

Bailer said they will focus on those who have tested positive. Her office will continue to contact and investigate the high-risk exposures and letters will be send to people who have tested positive with instructions about reaching out to their close contacts.

“When case numbers get as high as they are currently, research shows that contact tracing is of limited use in a community,” Bailer said. “It is really incumbent upon the community to not give COVID what it needs to spread. We know what to do to stop this pandemic—stay apart, wear a mask. COVID cannot spread without human hosts. If we stay apart we can decrease this pandemic.”

All three county commissioners, two West Chester Twp. trustees and the West Chester Twp. fire chief have suffered through the coronavirus in the past month. They have had different experiences with the contact tracers.

West Chester Twp. Trustee Ann Becker started feeling symptoms on Nov. 8 when her “everything bagel didn’t taste like anything,” and she received her positive result four days later. The health district contacted her almost a week after her positive test.

Commissioner T.C. Rogers said the health department reached out to him within a half a day of his positive COVID-19 test a few weeks ago and “they actually found out before I did.”

Commissioner Cindy Carpenter said the health district contacted her three times while she was ill.

“The action of warning people that they’ve been in contact with a positive COVID patient doesn’t make any difference,” Carpenter said previously. “That person could have been in contact with multiple COVID patients. It’s too widespread, we probably all have had contact if we’re outside of our homes.”

What to do

The Butler County General Health District is asking those diagnosed with coronavirus to do 3 things:

  • Stay home for 10 days and until their symptoms are improved and they have had no fever for 24 hours without use of medication. Call a provider or 911 if symptoms are concerning.
  • Get in touch with everyone they were near for two days before symptoms began, for 15 minutes or more over 24 hours, and within six feet, whether or not masks were worn. Ask them to quarantine for 14 days.
  • Quarantine must be held for the entire 14 days even if a negative test result is obtained since people may get sick any time up to 14 days after exposure.

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