Health Department outlines process for close contacts and testing requirements
August 13, 2020
MISSOULA – That last phone call someone wants to receive is from the health department identifying them as a close contact to someone who has tested positive for COVID-19. However, a phone call from a someone pretending to be involved with contact tracing could not only cause undue mental stress, it could also cost money unless identified as a scam.
The Missoula City-County Health Department (MCCHD) laid out the process for identifying close contacts and testing requirements to help residents discern who is calling them and what their options are for testing.
During the case investigation, the nurses ask the individual who tested positive for COVID-19 (index case) who they have been in contact with. They describe the definition of what a close contact is and then determine if the disclosed close contacts fit into that category. This requires that the person be fully transparent and willing to comply, providing all possible close contacts for follow-up.
MCCHD staff then calls all close contacts. The staff member identifies that they work for the Health Department and tells the contact that they have been deemed a close contact by someone who tested positive for COVID. The staff member asks for the contact's full name, date of birth and address. They will NEVER ask for social security number, credit card or bank information or anything associated with money.
The contact will then receive a quarantine and isolation letter, with the Health Department's logo on it, as well as a kit. There is no cost associated with this.
Close contacts are asked to get tested. MCCHD staff inform them of the testing services available at county providers, at the County Clinic on Flynn Lane in Missoula and weekly at the Clinton Fire Station and Seeley Lake Community Foundation parking lot.
Testing at the County Clinic, in Clinton and Seeley Lake remains free to Missoula County residents who are experiencing COVID symptoms and for those who have been notified by the Health Department as a close contact. Testing in Clinton and Seeley Lake is held every Tuesday by appointment. Appointments must be made Monday by calling 406-258-INFO and selection option 2. There is not an at-home COVID-19 test available.
Other providers may charge fees for testing or services. MCCHD advises individuals to ask their providers upfront about the cost for services and the test. It is each individual's responsibility to identify fees upfront in advance of their appointment to ensure that they understand not only the test and the service but also what will be covered by insurance (if applicable) and what will be considered an out-of-pocket expense. For example, the test may be free but there may be a charge for the office visit.
The MCCHD continues offering general information about COVID-19 testing options in Missoula County on their website http://missoula.co/cvirus or through the call center 406-258-INFO (4636). Anyone seeking testing is strongly encouraged to ask as many questions ahead of their appointment and services as they would with any other routine medical visit.
Getting cleared for a return to work is also something that is dependent upon the specific case and the contact's employer.
For example, first responders or frontline healthcare workers need to test and re-test proving that they no longer have COVID in order to return to work. However, other folks working in different industries might be able to return to work without a test after their 14-day quarantine and isolation.
In another instance, a close contact may need to quarantine for a full 14 days regardless of whether or not their test results are negative or positive. This is because the test indicates that they were or were not positive for COVID at a single point in time but due to COVID's incubation period, they could become symptomatic and contagious within their 14 days.