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BENNINGTON — The Vermont Department of Health announced that, due to a high number of cases, they are focusing their contact tracing efforts on the most vulnerable among us: people of color, the elderly, and school-aged children. On a temporary basis, they are asking everyone who is not included in one of those groups to do their own contact tracing, the process of contacting those who may have been exposed to the virus and sharing important information that will help limit the spread of COVID-19. These steps are recommended even for those who are vaccinated or who never have symptoms.

Isolate at home away from other people. Isolation means staying away from others, even those you live with for at least 10 days.

If you took a self-test or an at-home test, please be sure that you report your positive result to the Health Department.

Tell your healthcare provider that you have tested positive. They may have guidance you should follow. If you don’t have a healthcare provider, call 2-1-1 to be connected to care.

Identify your infectious period, which is 2 days before you noticed any symptoms or, if you have no symptoms, 2 days before your positive test. Your infectious period continues until you can safely end isolation.

Identify your close contacts, anyone who was in close contact with you during your infectious period. For COVID-19, close contact is someone who was within 6 feet of you for a combined total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period. People are considered close contacts even if you, they, or both were wearing masks. Use your calendar or social media to remember. Include people who live, work, go to school, or attended religious services with you. If you were in a location with people you do not know, consider the location as a contact.

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Prioritize your contacts based on vulnerability. For instance, if you visited a congregant living setting, someone over the age of 65, and a school, plan to contact each of them in that order.

With each contact, share that you tested positive and on what date and that you think that they could have been exposed. Encourage them to visit to learn about what they should do next, including getting tested themselves.

Once you have shared your COVID status, drink plenty of fluids and get lots of rest.

Watch for symptoms and get medical care immediately if you trouble breathing, persistent pain or pressure in the chest, new confusion, inability to wake or stay awake, or changes in color on your lips, gums, face, around the eyes, or nails. Tell your health care provider or 9-1-1 that you have COVID-19 and are isolating at home.

Knowing these steps may help us make a safe plan for celebrating during the holiday season. The fewer people you see, the easier your contact-tracing tasks will be. While it is arduous and time consuming, this multi-step process is crucial in limiting the spread of COVID-19.

Marie George, MD, FIDSA, is an infectious disease specialist at Southwestern Vermont Medical Center in Bennington.


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