Dr. Wade Kartchner is the health director of the Rappahannock-Rapidan Health District of the Virginia Department of Health.

Dr. Wade Kartchner, the health director of the Rappahannock-Rapidan Health District of the Virginia Department of Health, spoke at a recent town hall about  the COVID-19 pandemic.

After Fauquier County reported its sixth case of COVID-19 Saturday, Dr. Wade Kartchner, director of the local health district, explained whom officials contact after each confirmed case and why they likely will not share specific information about each local case going forward.

Staff from Rappahannock-Rapidan Health District, which includes Fauquier County, interview each person in the district who tests positive for COVID-19 to determine how they contracted the disease and to identify the person’s “close contacts,” Kartchner said in a press release.

The health department defines a “close contact” as anyone who lives in the same household as a person with COVID-19, anyone who has been caring for them, anyone who has been within 6 feet of a sick person for more than 15 minutes and anyone who was in direct contact with secretions from a sick person, for example by being coughed or sneezed on, kissing, sharing utensils, etc.

Close contacts are instructed to quarantine at home for 14 days, the release said.

The health department does not consider people “close contacts” if they have only been in the vicinity of the person who tests positive for the disease.

That would include people who might have been indoors with the sick person, such as in the same classroom or hospital waiting room, while remaining more than 6 feet away.

Such contact “does not put you at higher risk of getting sick,” Kartchner said in a press release.

“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,” Kartchner said in the release.

Close contacts of recently confirmed COVID-19 patients have been notified by the health department and have already been isolated from the community at large, Kartchner said.

Local VDH districts generally notify the public of the first confirmed cases of COVID-19, but not each subsequent case because of privacy concerns, the release said.

The first notification serves as an opportunity to notify area residents the disease is present in their community, Kartchner said.

“When we provide notifications of public health concern, we have to balance the privacy of individuals with the need for the public to know,” Kartchner said. “…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.”

The health department will release aggregate information when cases reach “a certain threshold” where such information would not lead to identification of any particular person, Kartchner said. 

In the meantime, Kartchner reiterated that the most effective means of slowing the spread of the coronavirus is to ensure residents understand the same preventions apply, including that they:

  • Stay home when they are sick.
  • Wash their hands and cover their coughs.
  • Practice social distancing recommendations.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.
  • Contact their health care providers when they 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.

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