Jon K. Rust

Jon K. Rust is publisher of the Southeast Missourian and co-president of Rust Communications.


If someone tests positive, how would you know if you should be concerned

As positive COVID-19 diagnoses increase in the area, questions are pouring into the Southeast Missourian. Over my next several columns, I will try to answer some of these questions and then update as information and numbers change. If there's something you want to know, please email jrust@semissourian.com. Or ask online beneath this column.

Among the most frequent questions so far: Can we know more about who is testing positive? Are rapid tests on their way to Cape? Do we have enough ventilators in the area? What is the status of personal protection equipment for local health staff? Are bars safe to go to? Can you keep us up to date on the number of people testing negative -- and those who have recovered?

Today, I'll focus on the first question, which I put to Maria Davis, health educator with the Cape Girardeau County Department of Public Health.

Q: Members of the public are asking to know more about those testing positive. They want to know if they might have been exposed -- whether through church, work or other interactions. What can you tell us?

Maria responded by email with reasons and regulations why certain information is confidential and why commonalities cannot be generally shared.

But she assured that investigations are taking place.

"Public health surveillance of reportable diseases/conditions is one of the Core Public Health Functions of the Health Center," she wrote. "When a patient is tested for COVID-19, it is advised for them to start thinking about what they did the week prior to becoming ill, and we ask that they and their household members stay home until the test results are known.

"A positive test result for COVID-19 is a mandated reportable condition to the Local Public Health Agency, and all positive results for Cape Girardeau County residents, regardless of where their test was completed, are sent to the Health Center. Therefore, we have the most up-to-date numbers available for Cape Girardeau County positive cases.

"Once the Health Center receives the confirmed report, a Public Health investigation is initiated. This includes interviewing each case, reviewing laboratory findings along with identifying any and all close contacts to the positive case. If a positive result is received, we do an initial interview with the positive individual to determine all the places and contacts they had 48 hours before the onset of symptoms.

"The next step in the process is to reach out to those identified contacts, inform them of their potential exposure, and instruct them to implement the control measures. Some control measures include determining if any contacts are symptomatic (and get them tested if need be), and we ask them to isolate for 14 days since their last exposure. Everything we do is aimed at quickly identifying individuals that may become infected and controlling spread as best we can."

In one sense, Maria's answer is reassuring. If someone tests positive and you were in close contact recently, you will likely find out (and be asked to quarantine). But she didn't want to leave it there. She also sent a sober warning.

"The public should assume that anyone they come into contact with could have COVID-19," Davis wrote. "The key to preventing the spread is social distancing, which is to quarantine yourself right now period. If you don't have to go out, you shouldn't. Treat everyone outside of your family unit as potentially infecting you.

"We do not want people to panic but to avoid close contact with others as much as possible. Most cases do recover from COVID-19 at home and have mild symptoms. However, we must protect our vulnerable populations and flatten the curve to give our health care system a fighting chance."

For answers to more questions, check back online on Friday or in print on Saturday.

Jon K. Rust is publisher of the Southeast Missourian.