Much of the experience of the coronavirus pandemic in our region has come down to waiting. If you test positive for COVID-19 – what happens next? How are you notified?
I wanted to find out.
“Hi my name is Monroe and I’m calling from the Albany County Department of Health. Is this Jackie?”
“Yes it is.”
“Hi. So the reason I’m calling you today is because you were identified as a post-contact to a laboratory confirmed case of coronavirus. Were you aware of this?”
“No I wasn’t.”
“OK, so basically what I’m calling to talk to you about is something called mandatory quarantine. And what this is – is that for people exposed to coronavirus, for 14 days after their last exposure people are required to stay at home and not leave the house except for medical care. So the reason I’m calling is to enroll you in the Albany County Mandatory Quarantine Registry so that we have all the information to monitor your symptoms and anything you need during this period of quarantine.”
That sample conversation is what you would hear if you — or someone you came into contact with — tested positive for the coronavirus. Now, I am not actually quarantined and I am not symptomatic. But Monroe Marshall actually is the person who makes those calls.
Marshall is an epidemiology graduate student at UAlbany’s School of Public Health and a full-time intern at the Albany County Department of Health. Marshall is part of the team that reports the coronavirus statistics we’ve been reporting daily on WAMC.
“When a person is identified with coronavirus the epidemiologist has to do a case investigation where they ask people who they were in contact with since the last time they started developing systems,” Marshall said. “So we get that list and we contact all those people and we tell them they were exposed and we enroll them in the quarantine.”
If you’ve been infected, the Department of Health calls every person you’ve been in contact with, and they are quarantined also.
Marshall says when Albany County still had enough kits, he was making dozens of these calls per day. Now he makes about five calls per day.
“Community testing was put on pause because there’s not enough kits to test people,” Marshall said. “So only the sickest of people or healthcare workers are getting tested - but soon we hope community testing will start again here in Albany.”
Marshall says the Department of Health is running low on supplies.
“We are very scarce on things like thermometers that we used to be able to bring to people on quarantine who didn’t have one to monitor their temperature,” Marshall said. “We’ve had donations of gloves and masks but masks are really precious commodities that we are running short of all the time.”
Marshall says the numbers are misleading.
“When they hear the numbers in different counties like Albany County or the surrounding counties, and they see they’re not growing as much as counties downstate or on Long Island — the number of cases we have is not reflective of the community spread because we don’t have community testing,” Marshall said. “So people with symptoms aren’t able to get tested. So basically the number you see doesn’t mean the virus isn’t spreading here, it is. We just don’t have the numbers that represent it because of the lack of testing.”
Marshall will graduate from UAlbany’s School of Public Health in May, even without a commencement ceremony. He says this experience of volunteering during a pandemic has reaffirmed that this is what he wants to do for a career.
“Now I realize there’s so much more to it and I could successfully have a career and enjoy and be passionate about this work and helping to control the spread of different diseases,” Marshall said.