March 28, 2020
Media Contact: Dr. Wade Kartchner, Health Director, Rappahannock-Rapidan Health District –email@example.com
Rappahannock-Rapidan Health District Responds to COVID-19
(Culpeper) – The Virginia Department of Health (VDH) considers coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) to be a communicable disease of public health threat, and is taking extra measures to prevent transmission to others in the community. As part of these efforts, the Rappahannock-Rapidan Health District tracks and investigates reported cases of COVID-19. Health department staff interview the ill resident, to gain information to better characterize the illness and to identify any “close contacts.”
We use the following criteria to determine if an individual is a close contact, and should quarantine at home for the next 14 days. Close contact includes:
- Living in the same household as a sick person with COVID-19
- Caring for a sick person with COVID-19
- Being within 6 feet of a sick person with COVID-19 for about 15 minutes, or
- Being in direct contact with secretions from a sick person with COVID-19 (e.g. being coughed or sneezed on, kissing, sharing utensils, etc.)
Being indoors, such as a classroom or hospital waiting room, with a sick person and remaining more than 6 feet away, does not put you at higher risk of getting sick. Also, briefly walking by or briefly being in the same room as a sick person with COVID-19 does not put you at a higher risk of getting sick.
This is a trying time for our community as we try to protect ourselves and our loved ones. In the public health field, we generally provide notifications to the public when the first case (of any outbreak) is of enough importance to let the public know that the disease is present in the community. When we provide notifications of public health concern, we have to balance the privacy of individuals with the need for the public to know. The first case also provides an opportunity to reinforce messages given to the public regarding how to avoid further spread of the disease.
It is standard public health practice to then not release detailed information on subsequent cases, especially in smaller communities such as ours, to avoid the identification of personal health information. When we reach a certain threshold where we can be confident that release of aggregate information won’t lead to identification of any particular person, we will do so.
It is crucial to understand that the identified cases and their close contacts have been notified by the health department and are already isolated from the community at large. Release of potentially identifiable private health information will not prevent spread of disease. What will prevent future spread is to have people understand that the same principles that applied before the first case in any community still apply currently:
- Stay home when you are sick
- Wash your hands, cover your cough
- Practice social distancing recommendations
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces
- Contact your health care provider when you are ill
For general questions about COVID-19, community members may call the RRHD COVID-19 Hotline at 540-316-6302. For the latest on COVID-19, visit: www.vdh.virginia.gov/coronavirus.