TOMS RIVER, NJ – The Ocean County Health Department (OCHD) continues to expand its robust COVID-19 response by establishing a new Disease Investigation/Contact Tracing Institute in partnership with Ocean County College. One of the main goals of the institute is to recruit, train and develop competencies in disease investigation to trace and monitor contacts of infected people with the COVID-19 virus and to help ensure the safe, sustainable and effective quarantine of these individuals to prevent further disease transmission.
“The OCHD COVID-19 response efforts continue to evolve as the pandemic itself is consistently evolving. We felt the institute was an important piece to serve the community by putting more personnel on our tracing task force to work cases with timely investigations that will ultimately mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and hopefully save lives as we move forward,” explained Daniel Regenye, OCHD Public Health Coordinator/Health Officer.
"You need to think of this as a continuum,” explained Jennifer Crawford, Supervising Field Rep Disease Control and the Senior Epidemiologist in the Communicable Disease unit. “As you test more residents, you identify more positives. The goal is to interview each of these newly diagnosed COVID positive residents. This interview identifies "contacts" of newly identified individuals which will need to be quarantined for the duration of the incubation period in order prevent further spread of the virus and most importantly protect those most vulnerable. This process requires extensive resources, and the Ocean County Health Department has built this Disease Investigator/ Contact Tracer Institute" to build this capacity and meet this challenge.”
What exactly is a disease investigator? A disease investigator is an employee of the Health Department who is the first point of contact with the newly diagnosed person which interviews them over the phone to learn more about their illness to mitigate future transmission.
What exactly is a contract tracer? Contact tracing is a lot like being a detective. Trained staff interview people who have been diagnosed with a contagious disease, such as COVID-19, to sort out who they may have recently been in contact with. If identified as a potential source of transmission, then limiting movement and encouraging quarantine is the best option to prevent spreading the disease any further.
There are now more than 8,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Ocean County and investigating each case has been a tall order. Each case has so many unique and moving parts but by dedicating more staff to assist with cases will only better expedite the investigation process.
“It’s another important piece to get a better grasp of the pandemic,” adds Ocean County Freeholder Gerry P. Little, Liaison to the Ocean County Board of Health. “We’re pleased Ocean County College is partnering with us in this endeavor by providing much-needed space and technical resources.”
“As the State continues to loosen restrictions and the public health community responds to rapidly changing local circumstances, it’s going to be important we have all the assets we can in learning more about the movement of this disease as we look ahead,” adds Regenye.
To learn more regarding the COVID-19 Contact Tracing Institute please visit www.ochd.org. You can obtain additional information or if you have any questions about COVID-19 call the COVID-19 Information Call Hot Line at 732-341-9700 ext. 7411.