After two county employees who work on field crews tested positive for COVID-19, the Advocate contacted county health officials for more details about responding to potential coronavirus exposures within the organization and among the public.
Benton County issued a statement Monday, July 27, saying officials were made aware of the first employee’s positive test this past Friday, July 24, sending an internal message to staff at the facility at which the employee works. Officials were alerted to the second positive test the following day. The positives were the first to be reported among the county organization.
Potentially exposed employees from both cases were identified and notified through contact tracing, according to the county statement. Following Public Health guidance, all potentially exposed employees will be tested and quarantined for up to 14 days while closely monitoring their symptoms. Public Health responded within hours of being notified in both cases and tracing was completed over the weekend.
Both employees who tested positive for COVID-19 report to the Avery Complex, which houses the departments of Community Development, Public Works, and Naturals Areas and Parks. The facility reportedly has been disinfected and sanitized to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention standards by a professional cleaning crew. The Avery Building’s lobby remain opens to the public.
Charlie Fautin, Benton County Health Department co-director, could not provide the number of people who were tested as part of the county workplace investigation. He said Public Health is not notified when tests are ordered, but does receive notice of all results, positive and negative. Fautin added that some referrals may result in family/household members also being tested.
Fautin acknowledged Public Health’s concern regarding test turnaround times, and staff are monitoring times for several labs that provide the vast majority of tests for Benton County clinics, hospital, and urgent cares weekly. He said unfortunately, there is little the county can do to affect those statistics because most are part of a national laboratory chains.
“Given our current turnaround time of four-five days, it is certain that some of those tests have not yet been reported to Public Health,” Fautin said. He added that immediate test results are more valuable for outbreak control, and longer delays mean lower potential benefit. However, Fautin said any and all test results are useful, even those with longer waiting times.
“Public Health recommends that everyone who is tested quarantine themselves until they get their results, but also know that even one-two days of quarantine can be challenging,” he said. “And very few households can maintain good quarantine for several days or a week – especially if the person is not ill, and that really raises the potential for asymptomatic transmission.”
Benton County will continue to encourage the employees who are able to telework to do so in order to create the safest environment possible for the employees that must physically report to work.
“Our first priority is the safety of all Benton County employees and our community members,” said Joe Kerby, Benton County administrator. “COVID-19 doesn’t discriminate and it impacts all of us. We must continue to practice the public health measures that have been proven to reduce transmission. If you have an employee that is sick, they should remain at home until they have been without a fever and are symptom-free for at least 72 hours.”
By Cody Mann