Contact tracers are phoning hundreds of people all over the state trying to stay on top of the spreading Covid-19 virus. KFSK’s Angela Denning talked with Petersburg Public Health Nurse, Erin Michael, who is contact tracing for the State of Alaska now.
Erin Michael runs the public health clinic in Petersburg. Usually her time is spent doing well child exams, immunizations, screenings, and family planning. She also regularly serves the community of Wrangell on a nearby island.
The Covid-19 pandemic shut down her travels this spring and Michael’s job changed this summer when she started contact tracing for the state.
“Every day is a unique and special day,” Michael said. “I’m learning lots about all over Alaska.”
Michael interviews people from any part of Alaska. She’s mainly doing what they call “index tracing” for people who have tested positive for the virus. She says that conversation is in depth and can last for some time.
“That can be quite extensive, sometimes that can be a couple of hours long, depending on how busy these people are and how many people they’ve been around,” she said.
One thing Michael has learned through dozens of interviews with people who have had the virus is that people are not always limiting their social bubbles.
“The big thing that I see is people maybe not keeping their social bubbles small,” Michael said. “They may be going to large events and they’re just not keeping that six-foot distance.”
Contact tracers like Michael will ask people about possible symptoms, preexisting medical conditions, where they live, their household members, coworkers, and other contacts in order to track possible virus transmissions. She says they will never ask for financial information.
“We’re never going to ask for a credit card or money from anyone,” she said. “So, if you get a call and somebody is asking you for credit card information or money or a check, that’s a scammer, that’s never going to be us.”
Michael isn’t alone. There are two other nurses in Petersburg helping her in contract tracing plus many more throughout the state. An important detail they try to identify is what resources are available for people where they live, which can widely vary. Overall, she says they are very grateful that people are willing to share their information.
“Very appreciative that people are willing to talk to us and give us this information so that we can give them the tools they need to properly quarantine or isolate depending on if they are positive or not,” said Michael. “Then also reach out to people that they’ve been around so that they can protect themselves so that we can hopefully slow down and eventually stop this Covid.”
Michael hopes that an effective vaccine will become available soon, which could protect the general public. Until then she’s asking people to keep following health recommendations of frequent hand washing, social distancing, and wearing facial coverings when around non-household members indoors.
Public Health Nursing in Petersburg does have free reusable masks for people who need them. They can be picked up from the office which is located in the health center complex. Someone is usually there Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.