Beginning Monday, January 31, Lewis and Clark Public Health (LCPH) will move to automated contact tracing, using SMS text messaging to reach all positive COVID-19 cases in the county.
Text messages will originate from the number (406) 213-1444 – this is a phone number specifically used by LCPH for this purpose – and to provide the individual with isolation and other information. The automated system is a HIPAA-compliant platform and will not compromise protected health information.
“With the Omicron variant, case numbers are increasing at a rate where our contact tracers and public health nurses can’t keep up with them, which can lead to delays and frustration from residents who test positive for COVID-19,” said Drenda Niemann, Health Officer for Lewis and Clark Public Health. “Using technology to get information out to residents in a quick and efficient way will better streamline processes and, in turn, give isolation instructions to individuals in hours, rather than days.”
LCPH says the rationale for making the transition is due to the large number of cases the county is experiencing. Omicron’s shorter incubation period makes it increasingly more difficult to identify close contacts of cases prior to their quarantine period ending, and the transmission of COVID-19 virus occurring prior to symptom onset and during the first few days of symptomatic illness.
Public Health notes by using the automated texting service they will be able to identify and contact cases within a 24-hour period.
Close contacts should follow quarantine recommendations and consider testing at least five days after exposure and certainly if they become symptomatic.
For residents without a cell phone or number that cannot be reached using SMS texting, the health department will utilize follow-up emails or calls to ensure all necessary information is reaching county residents.
LCPH will continue to offer tests through their testing clinic at the Fairgrounds to symptomatic/exposed individuals, by appointment, only. More information about getting tested in the county can be found here.
Lewis and Clark County will not be offering the tests to the general public. The federal government will send out four free at-home tests to any interested residents. More information can be found at: www.covidtests.gov/
Additionally, test kits are being prioritized for distribution to congregate setting facilities (the detention center, shelters, long-term care) and daycares and local schools whose populations cannot easily get to the Fairgrounds testing clinic.