Contact tracing in Idaho is important to stopping the spread of COVID-19

If someone you know or had spent some time with recently tested positive for COVID-19, wouldn’t you want to know about that?

Connecting with individuals who may have been exposed to the virus that causes COVID-19 is a critical piece of Idaho’s plan to safely reopen and contain the spread of disease. As more people are tested, more disease will be discovered, and the spread of the disease will need to be managed and contained in safe, responsible ways. This process is called contact tracing.

Epidemiologists in Idaho’s seven local public heath districts have been organizing and leading the effort to notify people of their possible exposure to COVID-19 since the beginning of the outbreak. This is a process public health is familiar with and has used to contain communicable diseases for decades.

Here’s how it works.

When someone is diagnosed with certain infectious diseases that are reportable under state law, laboratories and healthcare providers report basic information, such as name and birthdate, of the diagnosed person (known as the “index case”) to the local and/or state public health agency.

Continue reading “Contact tracing in Idaho is important to stopping the spread of COVID-19”

Idaho COVID-19: ‘We expect there to be bumps and blips in the data’

From very early in the COVID-19 outbreak, Gov. Brad Little and Department of Health and Welfare (DHW) Director Dave Jeppesen have attributed the decisions they are making about how to respond to the pandemic in Idaho to the latest scientific evidence available.

That scientific evidence is provided through the expertise of the public health staff at the department and at the local public health districts, but also largely from the data being generated from the outbreak and posted at

Epidemiologic data are collected from multiple sources, including people, clinics, labs, and hospitals. The completeness and timeliness of the information can vary drastically, depending on how the data are reported and who is reporting it.

Although Idaho is ahead of a lot of other states in our ability to accept electronic data from laboratories and clinical partners, it is not unusual for those records to have missing information. Data received from clinical and laboratory partners are considered preliminary. Information is verified during case investigations, which are often conducted over several days by epidemiologists, and information is gathered from healthcare providers and patients to complete the investigation. Continue reading “Idaho COVID-19: ‘We expect there to be bumps and blips in the data’”

A Day in the Life of Erika Vasquez, 2-1-1 CareLine Agent

Idaho’s 2-1-1 CareLine is staffed Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. MDT, to assist Idahoans seeking resources for free or low-cost services within their community. 2-1-1 agents can assist callers by referring them to resources such as rental assistance, energy assistance, medical assistance, food and clothing, child care resources, emergency shelter, and more.

Erika Vasquez is a teleworking 2-1-1 CareLine Agent. CareLine calls are patched through to her home router through the Meraki system, so she can securely take 2-1-1 phone calls.
Erika Vasquez is a teleworking 2-1-1 CareLine Agent. CareLine calls are patched through to her home router through the Meraki system, so she can securely take 2-1-1 phone calls. Photo provided by Erika Vasquez

On a normal day at work answering calls on the 2-1-1 CareLine, Erika Vasquez sits at her work station in one corner of an open plan room. She is happily surrounded by the chatter of her six CareLine colleagues as they take back-to-back phone calls from Idahoans reaching out for information, resources, and services.

The calls are as varied as the services that Idahoans need from the department and beyond. Callers may be reaching out for help paying for rent, utilities, food, clothing, or other basic essentials. Callers might be fellow DHW employees, looking for phone numbers for department programs. Callers from the public are often looking for services offered by programs outside the department, such as social security or unemployment benefits.

When it comes to services and information available to Idahoans, Erika and her team know a bit about everything. And while it may seem they can help with most questions, they do have their limits. “We do get calls asking for the phone number for Burger King, but we won’t give them that. We might suggest they look for it on Google or in the phone book,” says Erika.

These phone conversations are punctuated by quick chats among the CareLine team members. Any time any of them need anything, they shout out to each other and help each other out. Perhaps they are stumped by a question. Perhaps they’ve just had a difficult conversation with a caller who was emotional and in crisis. Erika and her colleagues work together like clockwork, and support each other through every work day.

On any given day at work, Erika and her six colleagues each take around 60 to 100 calls per day. While the average call is one minute and forty seconds, calls can range from just one minute, to over 20 minutes. The team stagger their working hours to keep the CareLine open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. MST. This way, the line is open during business hours for all Idahoans, whether they are calling from the north, on Pacific Time, or from the south, on Mountain Time. Continue reading “A Day in the Life of Erika Vasquez, 2-1-1 CareLine Agent”