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Cluster of COVID-19 hits case investigators and contact tracers

Target 12

CRANSTON, R.I. (WPRI) — Seven R.I. Department of Health staffers assigned to investigating COVID-19 cases and tracing the contacts of the people infected with the virus have themselves tested positive for the disease.

According to Health Department spokesperson Joseph Wendelken, a total of 11 people working for the department tested positive in November, including four contact tracers and three case investigators who he said are currently “at some point in their 10-day isolation period.”

Wendelken said all but about 20 of the state’s 400 tracers and investigators work out of 100 Sockanosset Crossroads — a building leased earlier this year to help with the Health Department’s pandemic workload. One of the state’s three remote hospitals is also located at that address.

About 70 percent of the 400 are contract labor, according to Wendelken.

Case investigators are charged with reaching out to anyone who tests positive and finding out who they were in close contact with leading up to contracting the disease.

Contact tracers call the contacts and advise them of the quarantine protocol.

According to Wendelken, there are about 25 contact tracers working during any given shift, but he said, “they do not all interact with each other in a way that would result in them being close contacts.”

“All of our contact tracers have been remote for the last two weeks,” Wendelken said in an email. “Some of our case investigators are in the office, and some are remote.”

Wendelken said the tracers will continue working remotely indefinitely and case investigators sit in every other cubicle in the Cranston building.

There will be “a deep cleaning” of the building weekly and everyday cleanings of high touch surfaces and common areas, according to Wendelken, who said bathrooms are being cleaned multiple times a day.

The Health Department is also not holding “large meetings” in conference rooms and virtual meetings and calls are strongly recommended, Wendelken said.

In May, the Health Department reported seven staff members had tested positive for COVID-19, and in March, there was said to be at least one active case in the department.

Send tips to Target 12 Investigator Walt Buteau at wbuteau@wpri.com and follow him on Twitter @wbuteau.

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