NEWS RELEASE: Ottawa County implements an improved automated system for case and contact investigation

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October 14, 2020

Media Contact: Kristina Wieghmink, public information officer I mobile/text 616-510-8523

Ottawa County implements an improved automated system for case and contact investigation

Disease investigation is time-consuming. This enhanced automated system will help to increase efficiency and enable a quicker response to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Disease investigations
case management and contact tracing—are fundamental activities that involve following up with a person (symptomatic and asymptomatic) who has been diagnosed with an infectious disease like COVID-19. This process can be time-consuming but it is critical to identify people who may have been exposed to an infected person. Public health agencies are responsible for conducting disease investigations and have legal mandates that require them to identify communicable diseases and notify people who have been exposed. The Ottawa County Department of Public Health (OCDPH) has been doing this work for decades to stop or slow the spread of diseases such as tuberculosis, sexually transmitted infections, chickenpox and new diseases like COVID-19.

Since COVID-19 can spread before symptoms occur or when no symptoms are present, disease investigation must be quick and thorough. By using digital case management and contact tracing tools, public health workers can quickly follow-up with those who are positive for COVID-19. Automated systems help to efficiently collect confidential and HIPAA compliant information about a person’s health and reach out to their close contacts by anonymously alerting them of exposure.

The COVID-19 response team in Ottawa County developed a detailed algorithm using the Qualtrics automated survey tool to collect case information and expedite the disease investigation process. When OCDPH receives an alert of a positive COVID-19 case from the Michigan Disease Surveillance System, they issue a text message to the case. Any case who is 18-70 years of age will receive a text message asking them to fill out a confidential questionnaire. All others will receive a phone call from the OCDPH.


Example text communications for case management.


Example of the case management survey.

What to Expect from OCDPH if You Test Positive for COVID-19

If you test positive for COVID-19, STAY HOME

A positive case will receive an investigation survey that collects any additional contact and demographic information, asks about their symptoms, whether they’ve been hospitalized and who they may have been in close contact with at home, work or other public locations and gatherings. Household members of a positive case need to self-quarantine and also should not go to school, work or any public place. If someone is a household contact with ongoing contact with a positive case, their quarantine will continue for 14 days after the person who tests positive is released from their isolation.

The OCDPH only asks for HIPAA compliant information and does not gather any banking, log in or private information like social security numbers. Within 24 hours of a case filling out the survey, they will receive a preliminary isolation letter via email. If someone did not fill out or complete the text survey, they will receive a call from a disease investigator to gather the information. 

During the case’s 10-day isolation period, they will receive daily text messages to complete another survey that asks how they’re feeling and whether they’ve remained home and away from others. It is important for people to adhere to isolation and not go to work, school or any public location or gathering. A person positive with COVID-19 is contagious and can easily spread the virus to others. People in isolation should only go out for essentials, like medical care, and ask others to help them with their errands.

A different and anonymous survey goes out to the case’s close contacts to notify them of exposure as soon as that information was gathered from the positive case. The OCDPH gathers similar information from the close contact and requests they start a 14-day quarantine period. The close contact should get tested for COVID-19 but a negative test result does not reduce the quarantine time since a person can develop symptoms and infect others (even with no symptoms) during this two-week timeframe.

Infographic: What Happens Next After I Test Positive for COVPDI-19?

Click to View, Print & Share

“Our mission in public health is to assure conditions that promote and protect health,” said Health Officer Lisa Stefanovsky with the Ottawa County Department of Public Health. “By creating a process that reaches more people in a way that is more convenient for them, together we can work to slow the spread of COVID-19. If you receive a text or phone call from our department, please answer the call to help protect the health of our community.”

Public Health's Call-to-Action to Our Community

  • Get tested at one of the locations listed here and self-quarantine, if you think you may have been exposed to COVID-19. Be sure to provide your cell phone number on the testing forms so OCDPH can follow-up with you via text or phone call.

  • Answer your phone if you get a call or text from the OCDPH so we can work together to slow the spread of COVID-19.

  • Understand the data that show a continued increase of positive COVID-19 cases spreading throughout our community.

  • Stay vigilant with the disease prevention methods by maintaining physical distance from others outside of your household, wearing a mask, staying home when you're not feeling well and frequently washing hands and disinfecting surfaces. 

Image courtesy of MI Bridge. Jorge Garcia, community health worker, connecting with people who have been exposed to COVID-19.

This graph from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows the steps involved in disease investigation. Automated systems, like the one developed by the OCDPH response team, help to create a more efficient and speedy workflow.


Click and scroll down to enlarge.