TEWKSBURY — Social distancing measures, handwashing, stay at home orders and “don’t touch your face” are guidelines which have been drilled into the global conscience for weeks now.
“We are still learning how the virus travels and who can get it,” said Susan Sawyer, Tewksbury’s Director of Public Health, in a telephone interview with the Town Crier this week. “People need to follow the recommendations; the virus is here.”
As far as tracking cases in Tewksbury, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health receives notices of any positive test results and reports them to the local public health department. At that point, the public health nurse takes over and checks in daily with the infected person.
Sawyer pointed out that this action is true for every communicable disease; there is no change in action relative to COVID-19 in the way public health departments are tracking people, whether the disease is tuberculosis, SARS, etc.
“We track who their contacts are, where the person has been, and so forth,” Sawyer said, describing the process. “There are specific public health criteria that are followed.”
Sawyer also explained that if a person who has tested positive with COVID-19, or any other communicable disease, has contacts in other communities, that community’s public health nurse is notified and that nurse tracks the contacts. Tewksbury public health officials use the MAVEN system, the Massachusetts Virtual Epidemiologic Network for disease case management.
Sawyer also said that it is very important to protect the personal information of the people who test positive. Persons who are notified of a positive test who are residents of Tewksbury could be self-quarantined at home, or could be in a medical facility under treatment, or could be located somewhere else.
This raises the debate about reporting specific cases to the public, because it can give either a false sense of security or raise a level of panic, neither of which are not to be taken lightly. Some communities are reporting on their numbers individually while others are reporting at the county level.
However, according to the DPH and the CDC recommendations, citizens must assume the virus is present and take social distancing and hand washing protocols seriously.
The DPH is also reporting cases of bullying during the pandemic. People of Asian descent, healthcare workers, and those who have traveled have all been victims. Secretary of Health and Human Services for the Commonwealth Marylou Sudders addressed that point in a press conference with Governor Charlie Baker on March 23, stating that if a family wishes to self-disclose that is their right, but “the state is only going to put out county-based data” due to cyberbullying and the stigma associated with communicable diseases.
Sawyer said that the only person who knows who is infected is the health nurse and a designated first responder, in Tewksbury’s case, the fire chief. This is only being done so that first responders may be in an informed position if they must enter a residence that has someone with a positive test.
As far as being OK to again circulate with family or move out of quarantine, Sawyer said that the Department of Public Health has guidelines for clearing someone of COVID-19; the person must be quarantined for 14 days from the identified date of contact and have two negative swabs 24 hours apart, and have at least 72 hours from resolution of fever without use of fever reducing medication and reduction in respiratory symptoms.
There are additional criteria and it is important to note that not all positive cases of COVID-19 actually exhibit symptoms, which is why health officials are adamant that people keep their distance; anyone can have the virus and not know it and then unintentionally spread it, especially those in the population who have underlying health conditions and to those who are elderly or immunocompromised.
For more information about COVID-19 and steps you can take to protect your family, visit www.mass.gov/coronavirus