When a Bloomington, Edina or Richfield resident tests positive for COVID-19, what happens next isn’t always clear.

But a phone call from Bloomington’s Public Health Division may help provide clarity.

The Public Health Division has a dozen staff members who have been working with the Minnesota Department of Health on COVID-19 case investigations and contact tracing. Case investigators call residents who have tested positive and collect information on their symptoms, demographics and exposures prior to their illness. The investigators also ask if the person needs essential services while they are in isolation, according to Kelly Deweese, a public health specialist.

In the case of an unemployed woman who was concerned about her symptoms, she was unable to access medical care because she did not have health insurance. Deweese, with the assistance of an interpreter, directed the woman to Volunteers Enlisted to Assist People for food and housing assistance, and to Portico Health, a nonprofit organization that helps residents access health insurance. The woman’s situation illustrated the needs of many people in the community who are unaware of resources available to them, Deweese noted.

Bloomington’s Public Health Division provides a variety of community services to residents of Bloomington, Edina and Richfield and is conducting contact tracing to help manage the spread of COVID-19, according to Nick Kelley, Bloomington’s assistant public health administrator.

Beyond contact tracing, Public Health employees also engage in outreach to minority residents or older residents, many of whom live in multi-unit housing. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has determined that many essential workers are black, indigenous or people of color, and in many cases live in multi-unit housing or situations where it is difficult to isolate following a COVID-19 diagnosis, thereby increasing the potential for transmission, Kelley explained.

Educating the community about the pandemic and providing connections to resources when they are needed is an immediate goal of Public Health. The city’s larger goal is changing the structural realities that lead to the impact COVID-19 can have, and that requires a longer conversation, Kelley noted. “We can’t fix some of these issues overnight.”

Concerns are not limited to the senior and minority communities. In recent weeks, the average age of residents diagnosed with COVID-19 has dropped, continuing the trend that has been occurring since April. In April the average age for COVID-19 cases was nearly 60. In June the average age had dropped to 36, and as of early July the average had dropped to 30 as a result of teens and young adults being diagnosed, according to Kelley. The teens and young adults are less likely to suffer severe consequences, but if they engage with older adults and transmit the virus, those cases may be more severe, Kelley said.

The average age is declining in part due to the improved management of COVID-19 cases in senior living facilities. With the increased accessibility of tests and summer activities beckoning young adults, where social distancing is not always observed, community transmission is more widespread, Kelley explained.

Most Minnesotans have health insurance and can test for the virus through their health care system. For those who do not have access to health care, resources for testing are available through the Minnesota Department of Health, with information available online at mn.gov/covid19.

Contact tracing by Bloomington’s Public Health Division is for public health use only, and data privacy laws govern the use of the information. Contact tracing helps minimize the spread of COVID-19, which is important to keeping essential businesses operating. “You try to break those chains of transmission,” Kelley noted.

Bloomington Public Health Division information and resources are available online at tr.im/bph.

Follow Bloomington community editor Mike Hanks on Twitter at @suncurrent and on Facebook at suncurrentcentral.

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