In response to rising COVID-19 cases, San Juan Basin Public Health turned to a new text messaging notification system this week to let La Plata and Archuleta county residents know if they have been exposed to the coronavirus.
Both counties entered into new phases of coronavirus restrictions within the last week in response to rising case numbers in November. The public health department is turning to text notifications to help its efforts to trace and contact those who might have been exposed to the virus.
“It is critically important for control of COVID-19 that anyone receiving an automated text message from SJBPH follow the quarantine and testing instructions to prevent spread of disease,” said Liane Jollon, SJBPH executive director, in a news release Monday.
La Plata County cases rose by more than 700 since Nov. 1, reaching 1,161 cases as of Tuesday. Archuleta cases rose by about 100, rising to 174 cases as of Tuesday.
Throughout the summer, SJBPH did interviews with people who tested positive. During those interviews, it identified others who had close contact with infected people, and followed up with a direct phone call to close contacts to deliver quarantine and testing instructions, the news release said.
A close contact occurs when someone has been within 6 feet of an infected person for a cumulative total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That includes the two days before symptom onset, or for asymptomatic cases, the date of the positive test.
Over the summer, contact tracers made more than 2,000 phone calls to patients and close contacts. In the last three weeks, cases in both La Plata and Archuleta counties have increased, and SJBPH is no longer able to notify 100% of contacts with phone calls, the release said.
If exposed, people receive a text notification of their exposure from (855) 681-1645. The message will also have a link to quarantine and testing instructions. The link will include a quarantine letter to send to employers as an exposure confirmation.
“This tool will help us deal with our high recent volume of cases more efficiently and quarantine exposed people faster,” Jollon said.
SJBPH said there have been reports of scam exposure notifications via text message. The health department’s notifications will not ask for any personal information, the news release said.
This text service is also separate from the Colorado Exposure Notification phone app, SJBPH said. That app, which can be downloaded at www.addyourphone.com, uses Bluetooth technology to track when someone has been in prolonged contact with a positive person. More than 1 million Coloradans enabled the application as of Nov. 13.