Covid-19 Contact Tracing: Who, When and Why

Covid-19 has had devastating consequences on the economy and human lives, eliminating thousands of jobs. Ironically, it also created brand new ones. Although, according to the CDC, the job of a pandemic contact tracer is not necessarily new, admittedly, most of us never heard about it before the pandemic. 

Currently, NHPS employs two part-time contact tracers: Maureen Honan and Rhonda Geffert. Both started last spring and were funded by the CT Association of Schools at that time. They continue their work this school year connecting the “dots” in Covid-19 cases in the district. Their primary duty is to do the follow up work once a new case is documented in the system (Veoci). They investigate its details by calling nurses, school administrators and parents. The idea is to quickly assess the scope of a case: who was affected, how badly, whom to quarantine and for how long, what information or help is needed to provide advisory support to the involved parties.

The work of the school contact tracers is governed by the Addendum-5 of the State of CT Interim Guidance for Responding to COVID-19 Scenarios in Connecticut School Districts. The tracers work under the supervision of the NHPS Covid-19 tracing group that includes Assistant Superintendent Dr. Paul Whyte, Athletics Director Erik Patchkofsky, and NHHD epidemiologists Dorothy Cohen and Emma Allen.

All cases are documented in Veoci (software provided by the vendor contracted by the City). Addendum-5  is a rather complex document that may be easily misinterpreted. To facilitate case handling and to minimize confusion, this year, in collaboration with the City of New Haven Health Department, the NHPS Covid-19 tracing group created a new Veoci form that provides immediate guidance once the major case details are entered into the form.

Maureen and Rhonda have become indispensable liaisons between the involved parties. They have gained knowledge and experience after handling hundreds of cases in the district. Together with the other members of the Covid-19 tracing group they are now the ultimate source of all Covid-19 related information for NHPS. 

Every Covid case is unique. There are parents who don’t want to comply, who are angry, and resent the pandemic measures which aim to protect the public from spreading the disease. Their frustration is understandable: having quarantined kids at home is challenging for working families. There are staff members in distress and desperation, who are so happy to hear a human voice over the phone that empathizes with them, listens to their Covid story, and offers help and encouragement. There are students who, despite being sick, are very eager to help the tracer to do her job, and who leave a long lasting impression on the adult after fifteen minutes of conversation. 

Each tracer has a handful of remarkable cases that they learned from. Overall, Maureen and Rhonda are very impressed by the level of cooperation between the parents, teachers and school officials. 

Rhonda and Maureen are not newbies in the school system: Maureen is a retired special education teacher and administrator who had worked in the schools for more than 30 years. Rhonda worked as a substitute teacher and has served on the Seymour school board as a member. 

Here is what they say:

 

Rhonda Geffert:

rhonda geffert

I am working remotely with my dog, Jezzy, by my side. She is a 13 year old Shitzu/Bichon. I have two daughters. My older daughter graduated in 2020 from Bucknell University with a degree in biochemistry and is employed as a scientist. My younger one is currently a junior at Colgate University pursuing a degree in psychology. My daughters were involved in multiple sports in high school, and their main sport was softball. They are both pitchers, and both have played at the Division 1 level in college. I have spent the last years traveling the country, supporting my daughters and watching their softball teams compete.

My husband is an engineer and VP of Operations at a manufacturing company.

In my spare time, I am a volunteer. In Seymour, the town where I live now, I have worked as a committee member and a chairwoman, collaborating with various other committees and boards, with families, parents, students and town officials. 

I am able to work with a team and be extremely self-motivated. I am a strong communicator. I listen carefully, and hope to understand the issues, implement what is necessary, and make a positive change. My ability to multitask and work efficiently has always been an asset. I am a problem solver. I have very strong organizational skills and extreme attention to detail. I am a professional, and I am courteous. Being reliable, and trustworthy are attributes I have always prided myself on representing. I have always lived by two philosophies: “Hard work pays off”  and “If you are on time, you are late”.

I think the tracing work is interesting and fulfilling. I am thrilled to be back again this year, working with all the dedicated staff, to keep the schools safe and open. I have enjoyed my interactions with all levels of staff and student’s families. It is clear that all involved are committed to keeping the schools safe for all.

 

Maureen Honan:

maureen honan

I joined the New Haven Covid Contact Tracing Team this school year after spending the spring contract tracing for NHPS under a state grant. It was rewarding work and to expand my knowledge, I completed an online course through Johns Hopkins University on Covid-19 Contact Tracing.  

My experience in education is vast: spending my career at the Pomperaug Regional School District #15, in Southbury, for forty-one years serving as an elementary teacher, a high school special education teacher and a special education administrator.  

I enjoyed the spring working with the New Haven Community and am fortunate to continue my work this school year with such a committed and hard working staff.  Despite the many challenges faced in contact tracing, this intervention has a significant effect on the progression of the pandemic and that is due to the collaboration of the administrators, nurses, teachers, staff, NHHD, and families working with the contact tracers. Together, success is achieved by the efforts of all to trace Covid-19 in the New Haven Community.

 I live in North Haven and summer in Branford where time is spent walking, reading, cooking, traveling, enjoying the beach with family and friends and spoiling my three year old Bichon Frise, Maeve.

Maureen and Rhonda are incredibly hard working and conscientious women. They learn fast, and are very comfortable with technology. They are true professionals. Rest assured, if they happen to call you, you will be helped, and please help them too by providing the details for the case documentation in a timely manner. We are in this together, and everyone’s effort counts.