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MCDPH Director Sara Bosse and Lt. Zack Zamudio collaborate on a tracing model, with Contact Tracing Coordinator Deputy Melanie Hopper (in background) at the Emergency Operations Center at MCDPH

‘Contact Tracing’ Task Force Limiting COVID-19 Spread

MADERA — A newly formed “contact tracing” task force appears to be making a big difference in limiting the spread of COVID-19 in Madera County.

Some of the members of the newly formed “contact tracing” task force taken in early March pre-social distancing

The task force is made up of a coalition of local agencies including the Madera County Sheriff’s Office, health department, District Attorney’s Office and Madera County Probation. Madera and Chowchilla P.D. also have members on the task force team.

“The process works just like an investigation,” said Madera County Sheriff Jay Varney. “If COVID is the criminal, then we want to find how many people COVID has had contact with or near contact with.”

So far, of Madera’s 33 confirmed COVID-19 cases, just seven have been transmitted by so-called “community spread,” according to health department statistics.

On Tuesday, Governor Gavin Newsom outlined a plan to lift California’s stay-at-home order. That plan included six essential criteria that would need to be in place before life could begin returning to normal. First on that list was testing, contact tracing and monitoring of all known cases.

The flattening of the COVID-19 “curve” is happening in Madera County, a sign of the success of the new task force

“Madera County is well ahead of the curve in this area,” said Deputy Sarah Jackson, MCSO public information officer. “Madera County has remained in containment while counties surrounding us have moved to mitigation or surge. We credit the early implementation of our Rapid Contact Tracing Program, which quickly identifies and removes COVID-19 patients and their contacts from the community.”

Jackson said Madera County has extended an offer to other Central California counties in modeling this program, which has been in operation for about a month now.

So far, very few counties around the state have been as successful as Madera in limiting COVID-19’s spread. Only Mariposa County, which has yet to report a single confirmed case of the virus, has put up more encouraging numbers than Madera County.

“We’re trying to keep the disease under control in the community,” said Madera County epidemiologist Minh Nguyen, another member of the task force from MCDPH.

“We’re very grateful that the number of COVID cases is so small in the county,” Nguyen added. “Because we are able to work with the sheriff’s department and others to get these people out of the community and tell them to stay home, we able to shorten the number of days they are infecting other people.”

“We’re trying to track down all of the people these [infected] people have been in physical contact with. If we do it right,” Nguyen said, “these people have not got sick yet.”

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