Unfamiliar callers to Albany area residents could be news from public health officials

Dr. Charles Ruis

ALBANY — For most people, unfamiliar phone numbers pop up on the screen multiple times a day.

While most of the time it is something like an offer for an extended car warranty or other spam, in the age of the novel coronavirus that unfamiliar caller could be on the line with important news.

Local and state employees tracking the virus that causes COVID-19 are making calls to area residents alerting them that they may have been exposed to someone who tested positive for the disease.

Recently, players in the Pelham and Early County school systems have been required to quarantine after players and coaches on the football teams tested positive, said Dr. Charles Ruis, district health director for the Southwest Public Health District. A player who later tested positive participated in the game, and the members of the two squads are quarantined through Sept. 25.

“We’re not doing this to make people feel badly about themselves,” Ruis said of the calls. “We just want to remind the community that the COVID pandemic has not ended. We all need to practice good hygiene, practice social distancing, wear masks or facial coverings when we can’t stay 6 feet apart, and stay home if we have COVID-related symptoms.”

Case investigation and contact tracing is an important step taken to identify those people who may have been exposed and thus need to observe a quarantine period.

Ruis said he wanted to “implore” residents to answer calls, even if the number is not familiar, because it could be a public health representative with a notification about exposure to a person who tested positive for the virus.

Typically, staff from both public health and an affected school system work together to notify individuals of potential exposure and to make informed decisions for the health and safety of the schools and the community, he said.

“Our job is to investigate positive cases to decrease the spread of COVID-19 in the community,” said Jacqueline Jenkins, the epidemiologist for the health district. “We want everyone to be safe and healthy. That means following isolation and quarantine guidelines, and reporting suspected and positive cases to public health.”

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