Lewis and Clark County at surge capacity staff for COVID case investigations

Posted at 6:00 PM, Jul 23, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-23 20:00:30-04

HELENA — Lewis and Clark Public Health has exceeded their capacity with investigation and contact tracing of COVID patients, and are now relying on surge staffing for assistance.

“We have definitely reached the point in our community where the work is greater than the capacity we have,” said Health Officer Drenda Niemann.

A total of four nurses are regularly employed by the health department. Due to the increase of cases in the county, they have had to recruit other nurses on a temporary employment basis to meet the need.

On Thursday, there were 68 active COVID cases in Lewis and Clark county right now, with the total number of cases in the county being 93.

37 of those cases are attributed to community spread, meaning during the course of their investigation Public Health was not able to determine where that exposure happened.

“That means the community has to stay vigilant, we can not let our guard down now,” naid Niemann. “We have to continue those protective measures that we’ve been asking all along.”

Nieman noted many of the recent cases in the county have a lot of contacts with other people, with the average number of direct contacts per positive case being around nine separate individuals.

“With every case that has a large number of contacts, that’s hours of work for our staff,” said Niemann. “If we can not do our investigation, contact tracing, isolation and quarantine process quickly, then those individuals are in our community and potentially exposing others.”

Nieman stresses that if anyone is showing COVID symptoms, not to go to work or be out in public and call their doctor.

People should wear their face mask in public, maintain social distancing, avoid large group gatherings and wash their hands regularly.

“This is real,” said Niemann. “People are getting very, very sick and we’re losing our neighbors and loved ones.”

Lewis and Clark County is also looking for medical staff to help with their COVID-19 positive shelters.

The shelters are places that an individual who has tested positive can go if they don’t have a location to isolate to.

“It’s really important right now that we’re able to quickly isolate an individual that’s tested positive and may be homeless or not able to isolate to their home,” said Niemann.

The County has not needed to use the shelters yet, but want to have people ready on standby if the need arises. The position is able to pay $20 an hour for someone working the shelter.