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Salem health officials talk COVID, guidelines

SALEM — With city health officials falling behind in contacting residents who have tested positive for COVID-19, those who can’t be reached may get a letter instead.

That’s what city Health Commissioner Alanna Stainbrook explained to city health board members during their meeting Wednesday.

“People are not getting called because we don’t have the staff to call them,” she said.

She plans to post the guidelines for isolation and quarantine and a form to fill out on the district’s website at salemcityhealthdistrict.org and on the department’s Facebook page, hoping people will return them with their personal information and reach out. For those people the department can’t reach by phone, they’ll send a letter.

The Centers for Disease Control cut the self-isolation down to five days, with an additional five days of mask-wearing for anyone positive, but Stainbrook said the department is still recommending the old guidelines for 10 days of isolation.

She said the Omicron variant is very contagious, saying that many people who think they have a cold probably have COVID-19.

Part of the problem for contact tracing and securing information from positive cases is the huge influx in home tests that haven’t been entered into the system yet. There were 382 positive cases in December, but she said that’s only an estimate because of the number of home test kits not entered.

The queue holds at least 200 cases at a time, but even with staff members going through the list, it remains 200 so she’s not sure how many could still be out there. They’re putting in some extra time working to get caught up.

The total number of positive cases for 2021 has been estimated at 1,504 cases, but Stainbrook said “that total for 2021 is probably going to go up significantly.”

She said they still have COVID-19 vaccine available and actually held a pair of clinics at two assisted living facilities and are trying to make contact with two senior apartment complexes about possible clinics and looking into reaching homebound people. The department gave 3,968 total injections in 2021.

In other business, the board asked Stainbrook to further check on a request by the Hannah E. Mullins School of Practical Nursing to have the health district dispose of their sharps (needles). Stainbrook also planned to follow up on security monitoring and the legislation to allow the health department to enforce Tobacco 21 rules.

The board briefly went into executive session for personnel and returned to take action on the rate paid to Lynle Hayes for environmental health work. She had been paid $24 per hour as a consultant for limited hours, but now she’ll be paid $17.94 per hour for any work done.

The next board meeting will be 2 p.m. Feb. 16 at the KSU City Center.

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