Two local health providers are helping some area health departments do contact tracing on COVID-19 cases.

Ozark Center, part of Freeman Health System, is working with the Joplin and McDonald County health departments to help provide check-in calls and support for those in isolation or quarantine.

Access Family Care is providing assistance to the Joplin and Jasper County health departments to obtain information from those listed as contacts who may have been exposed by a person who tested positive for the virus.

The health departments have needed assistance because of the surge in cases experienced over the past three weeks.

When a staff member of the Joplin Health Department initially contacts individuals who have received a positive test result, information is gathered about them and their cases, and they are given the details they need to take care of themselves.

"We talk with them about their health condition, when to seek medical care and how to self-care," said Ryan Talken, assistant director of the health department. "We also need to learn of other people they may have been in close contact with during the time they were considered potentially infectious. This contact tracing is an important part of managing the virus and limiting the potential spread."

Talken said that with the case numbers growing, the contact tracing work has increased substantially.

The contacts are called twice daily by health officials to monitor any symptoms they are having after possible exposure. Contacts are advised to self-quarantine for up to 14 days so they don’t spread the virus during this monitoring period.

Splitting the work

Access Family Care is primarily working on the management of the contacts identified from the initial case investigation, and Ozark Center is mainly conducting the daily monitoring.

Joplin, as of Friday, had 114 contacts in quarantine. Jasper County, as of its last public posting last week, had 1,137 contacts in quarantine. No information was available Friday on the McDonald County contact numbers.

"If a person indicated positive for COVID and either department is involved, they will get a list of names who are contacts and forward that to us. We go through a questionnaire with those who are listed as contacts and then forward that back to the health department," said Steve Douglas, spokesman for Access Health Care. "Then Ozark Center makes daily contact with them to go over their symptoms. Everybody is working together, but basically it's a three-step process, and it's very involved."

Funding for the contract to provide the help comes from the federal coronavirus relief bill.

Ozark Center also adds resources from the Show-Me Hope FEMA Crisis Counseling Assistance and Training Program grant, which expands funding for its team members to provide psychological first aid, emotional support and referral services as part of a community COVID-19 response to the ongoing pandemic. The same team was formed to help survivors of the May 2011 tornado.

"This program is proving vital to helping people deal with trauma from natural disasters. Now, it also includes the COVID-19 pandemic," said Debbie Fitzgerald, director of crisis services and the Show-Me Hope program manager for Ozark Center.

At Ozark Center, 11 staff members already have been providing services through the Show-Me Hope grant, which funds services through Aug. 18 for survivors of storms in spring 2019. The new funding under the grant expands the team to include services for the entire community amid the pandemic.

"The earlier grants allowed us to do face-to-face — and, recently, telehealth — outreach with victims of last year’s natural disasters, while the addition of this new grant works to help those struggling with anxiety, sleep issues, increasing frustration and irritation from our new way of life, which can include isolation, parenting struggles, relationship issues and other behavioral health issues exacerbated by stay-at-home orders and quarantine due to the coronavirus," Fitzgerald said in a statement.

Talken encouraged residents to cooperate with those from Access or Ozark Center if they get a call.

"We appreciate our fellow health care professionals assisting with monitoring and counseling those identified during the case contact work we’re doing," Talken said. "It’s important that all citizens know that both Access Family Care and Ozark Center staff are working on our behalf to assist them and provide helpful information during this time."

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