TEWKSBURY — As Tewksbury enters the second week post the Thanksgiving holiday, the surge in COVID-19 cases continues. The town had to hire additional contact tracing staff to handle the uptick in cases. It appears gatherings are primarily the source of infection, where groups of people are in tighter spaces with low ventilation, without masks, and for longer periods of time.
Three health professionals are currently supplementing Tewksbury’s health department staff to assist the town with tracking the spread of the virus. And while vaccines are widely available and the efficacy is documented, some residents are still not confident in vaccination as a path. As of the state’s vaccination report of Dec. 9, Tewksbury is 71 percent fully vaccinated.
Contact tracer, Eleanor, has been helping the town since December of 2020. A nurse, she is an advocate for mask wearing and makes no judgment on vaccine status.
“When I speak to someone who has tested positive, I want to give them the proper guidance, find out what resources they may need, and try to help keep the infection from spreading any further,” said Eleanor.
Tewksbury’s cases have doubled in the week after the Thanksgiving holiday.
The contact tracers receive notification of a positive test result via the state’s MAVEN system. This information is confidential and HIPAA protected, and only accessed by authorized, trained tracers. The tracers usually speak to the infected person or leave a message.
“We want to be sure they are OK and offer advice on how to handle their symptoms,” said Eleanor.
Additionally, the tracers want to know who else in the household may be in contact with the person, and their date of birth. The tracers will give quarantine advice and explain how to stay isolated for 10 days, not interact with anyone or allow them in or out of their home, etc.
“For the most part, people are very receptive,” said Eleanor.
The virus is considered novel because it is new and scientists are still learning how it reacts in the body.
“Some people have chills, fever, nausea, or gastrointestinal issues, but others end up in the hospital, very sick and in need of more extensive care,” said Eleanor.
Persons who have pre-existing conditions, or co-morbidities, are at higher risk for complications from COVID-19, as the virus attacks the immune system and can trigger other reactions in the body. Younger persons are as likely to be hospitalized as older persons, state data is showing.
While home testing is more widely available, the tracers urge people to get a supervised, lab test such as the PCR.
“People don’t realize, but they can test positive for up to 90 days after infection. If they have a trip planned, or need to return to work, we can use their documented test to prove when they were tested, and provide a note or letter so that they can fly,” said Eleanor.
An at-home test does not have the benefit of tracking, and as such, will not suffice for a governmental agency’s requirements.
“People planning travel for February vacation could be impacted,” suggested Eleanor.
Another aspect of the virus is the long-haul syndrome. The virus attacks each person differently and increasingly people are enduring lingering effects. Massachusetts General Hospital, Spaulding Rehab, and others have opened long haul operations to help people with the after-effects of the virus.
“It’s devastating,” said one of the tracers.
The tracers work on different groups in town, such as day care clusters, adults, school populations, and sports.
“We don’t want anyone to get sick. We are nurses and we are in the business of caring for people,” said Eleanor.
The nurses urge people to stay home if they don’t feel well with any type of symptoms, pointing out that nothing can be ruled as a “simple cold” any longer. According to experts, a test is a moment in time, so a person may be infected but not have developed the virus enough to show positive on a test. Sometimes repeated testing is necessary.