Changes coming to how Vermont traces exposure to COVID-19

Published: Apr. 27, 2020 at 5:51 PM EDT
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Knowing where confirmed cases are and who might be infected will be critical to the state's containment efforts moving forward. On Monday, state officials said new procedures are on the way later this week.

They wouldn't elaborate on what changes they're making to the current contact tracing procedures other than to call it a refinement of what they're already doing.

Our Cat Viglienzoni talked with someone who's been through it to find out what they're doing now.

"It was, 'Hey, I just tested positive for COVID-19. We hung out at the UVM basketball game. You might want to get that checked out,'" said Jamie Scavotto, the news director at WDEV.

That text from a co-worker who also worked at the UVM America East semifinal basketball game on March 10 led Scavotto to quarantine for 10 days. He said his first call was to the health department.

"I'm pretty sure I might have beat them to the punch, so to speak, by about 12 hours or so," he said.

The health department asked him questions about his contact at the game and determined Scavotto medium-risk, sending him a thermometer to take his temperature each day and masks as part of a packet of information about the virus and its symptoms. And he says they kept reaching out.

"They would send me an email at the beginning of the day and at the end of the day to see if I had any symptoms," Scavotto said.

What they did with Scavotto is called contact tracing. It's where health department officials talk to someone who has been confirmed positive with COVID-19 and find out who they may have infected.

Monday, both Gov. Phil Scott and Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine indicated they are refining their existing procedures because of how important tracing is to Vermont's reopening strategy.

"The testing and tracing is going to be a huge part of this," said Scott, R-Vermont.

Levine called the tracing interview "exhaustive." But WCAX News has heard from some patients who expressed concerns they weren't asked in detail who they had contact with while they might have been infectious. We asked about that and the commissioner said they can't afford to cut corners.

"That has certainly not been the rule and I would hope that was the exception," Levine said. "But going forward, that's an absolute necessity."

As for Scavotto, the health department sent him an email on the 10th day saying he was free to go about his business... but not for long.

"Ironically, my last minute of quarantine was the first minute of Governor Scott's 'Stay Home, Stay Safe' order at 5 p.m. on a Wednesday night," Scavotto said. "So they sent me the email, and the next thing you know I'm covering everything with that from home."

Monday, officials were also asked about containment policies if a business that reopens has a worker who tests positive.

They said it would be on a case-by-case basis but would definitely include contact tracing and might include closing the business but also might not depending on what the tracing found.

The health commissioner said the goal is to not open things only to shut them down again-- if they can avoid it.

And they also aren't interested in enforcing mandatory quarantines unless there is a public health risk and a business isn't complying.