UPDATED: McHenry County had 28.4% of people be uncooperative with contact tracing efforts in October

The offices for the McHenry County Department of Health and the McHenry County Coroner are seen Sept. 11 in Woodstock.
The offices for the McHenry County Department of Health and the McHenry County Coroner are seen Sept. 11 in Woodstock.

The McHenry County Department of Health is seeing a high level of resistance with its COVID-19 case investigations, making the process more difficult and hampering efforts to slow the spread of the virus in the county.

People reached by county-employed contact tracers and case investigators are refusing to give information such as the people who they had been in contact with, said Lindsey Salvatelli, spokeswoman for the McHenry County Department of Health. 

In September, 16.1% of people were uncooperative, and this number grew to 28.4% in October.

McHenry County recently has seen an increase in its positivity rate and in its number of cases, putting it at “warning level” for potential restrictions to stem the spread of COVID-19. 

Public Health Administrator Melissa Adamson previously said during a McHenry County Board Committee of the Whole meeting that the McHenry County health department hasn’t been able to point to any particular driver behind the increase in cases, something that could partly be attributed to noncompliance with contact tracing efforts.

“Without complete information ... we don’t get a full picture,” Salvatelli said. “It’s definitely not helping the situation and making it difficult for our case investigators to really narrow down that information and find out what some of these sources are.”

Salvatelli emphasized that the health department respects people’s privacy when it comes to gathering this information. 

“We won’t take your information and pass it along,” she said.

However, if someone does not participate in the case investigation and they have been in contact with somebody, the McHenry County health department can’t alert the other person to inform them that they’ve potentially been exposed to COVID-19 and should quarantine. The health department does not inform the potential contacts of who the infected individual was.

“That creates more community transmission,” Salvatelli said. 

Salvatelli pointed out that asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic carriers exist, meaning people could be passing along the virus and not even know it. Thus, the chain continues, she said. 

Stopping the spread has two parts to it, Salvatelli said.

There’s the front-facing piece, including washing hands, wearing a face mask and social distancing, but in the second part, there’s the behind-the-scenes work of assisting the health department and making sure they get the information they need, Salvatelli said. When people don’t work with the health department, that makes case investigations difficult for the health department, she said. 

The point of contact tracing and these case investigations, Salvatelli said, is to be able to pinpoint emerging trends and the transmission of the virus, while also reducing the spread zone. 

When a case investigator from McHenry County does call, they will be reaching out from a 312-777-1999 number, or someone may see “COVID Contact” appear on their caller ID.

The Lake County Health Department also is facing issues with people not responding or not wanting to cooperate with contact tracers, spokeswoman Hannah Goering said.

“Our contact tracers have encountered some resistance from the public,” she said. “We continue to work with them to try to get them to cooperate and be part of the conversation, because that’s really how we ... support people as they’re going through this.”

Kane County, on the other hand, has had a very small percentage of people refuse to participate in contact tracing efforts, communications coordinator Susan Stack said.

For the past week, only 3.3% of people who were called refused to participate. Stack said the Kane County Health Department conducts several hundred calls each week.

When people are hesitant to answer the health department’s questions, Kane County contact tracers and case investigators reassure them that the process is confidential and the information Kane County health officials are getting is simply for data gathering and contact tracing, Stack said.

“Their name is never exposed to other people that they talk about,” Stack said. “We explain why we ask these questions, and the fact that it is confidential information usually makes people feel much more comfortable.”

In addition, Kane County Health Department has a relationship with patients and contacts where they are able to anticipate what kinds of questions and hesitancies they have, Stack said.

“It’s not necessarily just about their data,” she said. “It’s about people that they’ve been around that they care about, that they see on a regular basis and they’ve been in contact with.”

Stack said people are concerned not only for their health, but the well-being of those in the community as well. 

“We appreciate that,” Stack said. “We realize that this is a group effort, we’re all in this together, and the community is responding and keeping in contact with us.”

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