Many people had never heard of “contact tracing” before the COVID-19 pandemic, but it has rapidly become recognized as a key to halting the spread of the disease.

A contact tracer interviews people diagnosed with a contagious disease to determine all of their recent close contacts and then calls the contacts to provide information. This may include a recommendation to self-quarantine.

The objective of this long-used public health strategy is to break the chain of transmission of a communicable disease by identifying and alerting those who may have been exposed to it. It’s been used to help control Ebola, sexually transmitted infections, tuberculosis and many other diseases.

A team of contact tracers working through the Wilkes County Health Department has emerged as heroes by doing much to keep a COVID-19 outbreak at the Tyson Foods Inc. chicken processing complex from becoming a much larger countywide problem.

The team consists of the clinical services program manager, four nurses and two providers at the health department and all 10 Wilkes County public school nurses, rotating in shifts each day.

COVID-19 resulted in the statewide closure of schools, but it also made the school nurses available to help fight the virus.

They quickly agreed when asked to help with contact tracing, bearing witness to their compassion and dedication to professional calling. It was a smart use of public resources.

At this crucial time, Wilkes is blessed to have a skilled and dedicated team of contact tracers who live here and know the county’s people.

Contact tracers need to understand patient confidentiality and medical terms.

Good interview and interpersonal skills, resourcefulness and an understanding of the community are important.

Tyson Foods itself also deserves credit for its strong response to the COVID-19 outbreak and ongoing diligence with preventive efforts at the processing complex.

Wilkes County’s largest employer has also helped the community by increasing pay, providing bonuses and through policy revisions during these difficult economic times.

Tyson Foods has given away huge amounts of chicken locally to food pantries and to Tyson and school employees.

Tyson officials have worked well with local officials, including contact tracers and others at the Wilkes Health Department.

Winning the war against COVID-19 means preventing and containing new outbreaks. Contact tracing, along with expanded testing, is essential for this.

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