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Contact tracers key to lessening impact of possible second virus wave, experts say

Updated: May. 14, 2020 at 5:38 AM EDT
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MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (WMBF) - As businesses prepare to enter phase three of reopening the state on Monday, DHEC is focusing on staying ahead of the virus by continuing to build a team dedicated to tracking down those exposed to a person diagnosed with COVID-19 through contact tracers.

In the past week, DHEC has increased the number of contact tracers from less than 300 to nearly 2,000 people.

A representative with DHEC, who did not want to be identified, explains her experience with bringing contact tracers on board.

“I get about 100 emails a day from people that really want to do it. It’s an absolutely bewildering experience for so many people, so we want to make sure whoever gets on board with us is going to be well equipped verbally so that everyone involved remains calm," the representative said.

She says the more contact tracers guiding people who’ve been exposed to the virus across the state, the more chances of beating a potential second wave of the virus.

“If people know they’ve been exposed and receive instructions to go into two-week quarantine, they’re immediately reducing the chances that five people are exposed to them," the representative said.

Kevin Shea, an infectious disease specialist for Grand Strand Medical Center, agreed. He noted the need for more contact tracers is necessary to stay ahead of the virus.

“A second wave is likely," Shea said. "The fact we can then trace back any positive case and make sure we isolate any person that’s been exposed as much as we can should limit the damage going forward. But that assumes the population as a whole follows the [social distancing] rules.”

For many residents and tourists along the Grand Strand, ‘contact tracing’ is new terminology but they understand loud and clear the process of tracking down a person who might be infected.

“I feel like [contact tracing] is a very smart thing to do," said Christopher Emitis, a frequent vacationer of Myrtle Beach. "You want to eliminate the virus as much as possible. Hopefully, when we get a vaccine, we’ll be able to take the virus out completely.”

Myrtle Beach resident Jessica Gray says she’s on the fence about the process.

“If you feel like somebody is sick, I think you should tell them," Gray said. "But I don’t think there should be people out there trying to find people that have it.”

Jaydah, a vacationer from Charlotte, North Carolina, is in support of tracking down people that are unknowingly spreading the virus.

“It makes me feel good, like they’re trying to protect us and they’re trying to make us aware of what’s going on," Jaydah said. “You don’t know who’s sick.”

They all agreed on one issue: they want to be ahead of COVID-19 and return back to a life of normalcy..

“I don’t want to be depressed," said Jessica Mobley, a vacationer from Charlotte, North Carolina. "I don’t want to be home, closed in, looking at the blinds. I don’t want any of that.”

DHEC says they prefer contact tracers to have a medical background but it’s not a requirement. What is a requirement is effective communication skills and knowledge of medical terminology.

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