In the battle against COVID-19, one of the best weapons is trustworthy information.
Information about outbreaks, where they happened and how the virus spread.
To that end, the Minnesota Department of Health has launched a new online survey that should help in its investigations into COVID-19 cases. The goal, according to the department, is to make public health strategy regarding COVID-19 faster, easier and more efficient.
It’s an effort that residents here in Douglas County should support.
“The scale of this pandemic has made us look to new methods to do our work,” said Minnesota Commissioner of Health Jan Malcolm in a news release issued last week. “Tools like this survey will mean we can reach more people, more quickly, and ideally slow the spread of COVID-19 in Minnesota.”
Case investigation is the process to determine close contacts of someone who tested positive for COVID-19. It’s the first step when someone tests positive. Contact tracing can’t happen until a case investigation is complete.
The typical case investigation process involves public health workers calling someone who has tested positive for COVID-19, but contacting people by phone isn’t always the quickest or easiest method, according to health leaders.
With the new approach, when someone tests positive for COVID-19, the health department will send them a text message inviting them to participate in a survey. By responding to the text with an email address, people who test positive for COVID-19 can complete the online survey without needing to wait for a call from public health workers. Both the texts and the survey itself will be available in multiple languages to reach as many Minnesotans as possible, Malcolm said.
People who receive a text message but decide they would like to do the case interview by phone can simply ignore the text and wait for a call. The survey collects information about symptoms and testing dates, but also connects those who take it with help that might make isolation and quarantine less of a burden, according to the health department.
The survey was successfully piloted in Hennepin County the week of Jan. 11.
“There are many COVID-19 cases to interview,” said MDH Infectious Disease Director Kris Ehresmann. “This survey means people who have tested positive don’t have to wait for a call, but can just jump right in and learn more about how to keep themselves and their families safe. The survey will make it easier for us to track COVID-19, and make it easier for people to help stop the spread.”
The health department said it’s aware that concerns about scams or spoofing calls might make Minnesotans less willing to answer the text or a call. There are a few red flags to keep in mind.
“We want people to know it’s the health department sending the message,” Ehresmann said. “We’re never going to ask for banking information, financial information, or things like your Social Security Number. When in doubt, you can call the health department at 651-201-4989, or check our avoiding phone scams webpage.”
For more information, go to www.health.state.mn.us.
Another trustworthy resource is Horizon Public Health, which serves Douglas, Grant, Pope, Stevens and Traverse counties, at www.horizonpublichealth.org.