On the trail of the coronavirus

This transmission electron microscope image shows SARS-CoV-2 -- also known as 2019-nCoV, the virus that causes COVID-19 --isolated from a patient in the U.S. Virus particles are shown emerging from the surface of cells cultured in the lab. The spikes on the outer edge of the virus particles give coronaviruses their name, crown-like. Credit: NIAID-RML

In an emphatic illustration that the pandemic is far from over, the state Department of Health is investigating COVID-19 exposure in four virus clusters after officials traced multiple new infections to a student who recently traveled to Florida and attended a downstate graduation ceremony.

The student started exhibiting symptoms shortly after attending a high school’s drive-in graduation ceremony June 20 at the Chappaqua train station in Westchester County. Twelve others who had contact with the student at the ceremony also tested positive and are self-isolating.

Contact tracers have identified three other COVID clusters at the Oswego Apple Factory, the Washington County/Vermont Slate Quarry and the Montgomery County Aluminum factory.

Twelve cases from the quarry were reported, 82 apple factory employees were infected with the virus of 179 people tested and 74 COVID-19 cases were found at the aluminum factory, where 500 employees were tested.

In a perfect world, we would not need contact tracers, whose name would otherwise be confined to a cyber-novel or high-tech science-fiction movie. As it turns out, though, these virus private detectives are demonstrating the contact-tracing system works. You pick up a string, track it to a thread and find the common denominator. Mickey Spillane would be proud.

Aggressive testing and contact tracing must be done to slow and ultimately control all potential clusters of new cases like the one in Westchester County. But unlike the private eyes of the 1950s, today’s contact tracers need the cooperation and sense of personal responsibility of the people they are tracking so they can follow the trail of the coronavirus.

Contact tracing is vital to the reopening of our economy, our schools, our businesses. Indeed, it is crucial to our way of life. It enables health officials to pinpoint coronavirus hot spots and neutralize them before they become full-blown outbreaks. If that occurs, the result would be disastrous.

Johnson Newspapers 7.1