VDH COVID-19 ‘case investigators’ verifying vaccination status of positive cases; tracking breakthrough cases

NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — The Virginia Department of Health tracks COVID-19 cases by various metrics: age, race, and more. It helps them look for trends in cases or how to target mitigation efforts.

Over the summer, they started tracking breakthrough cases, which is when someone tests positive after being fully vaccinated against COVID-19. To do that, they have to verify vaccination status.

A positive COVID-19 test can be concerning. To help, case investigators with the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) will call.

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“They’re going to be that first call to people who are sick with COVID-19 to gather information about your illness, your clinical status, your [information] about when you started feeling ill,” said Elena Diskin, VDH Epidemiology program manager.

Diskin leads the contact tracing unit at VDH. She says case investigators are trying to help those who are sick as well as the community.

“So it’s really important to understand what’s happening, where people are getting sick, when people are getting sick, and who is getting sick and where COVID is spreading,” Diskin said.

Case investigators will also ask about vaccination status. They will verify it through the state vaccination database called the Virginia Immunization Information System, or VIIS.

“It’s important for our public health professionals to ask that question to kind of be able to predict how well the individual is going to do, to better understand their vulnerability their progression of the illness and for us to be able to track whether the vaccines in our community are still able to protect against COVID strains,” said Dr. Parham Jaberi, acting health director of the Norfolk Department of Health and the chief deputy commissioner for Public Health and Preparedness for VDH.

He says verifying the person’s vaccination status is important because it could impact a potential quarantine.

“Knowing whether you are vaccinated or not helps determine the length or even the need for quarantine,” said Jaberi. “It’s important for our case investigators to also access that data because, people may be confused, they may have gotten the flu vaccine, they may have gotten another vaccine at the workplace, they may not exactly remember.”

Case investigators try to reach every positive case, but Jaberi says names sometimes fall through the cracks. 

He urges people to answer the phone when they are called.

“The questions, the conversation will hopefully guide the individual in terms of what some of the next steps may be and what to look out for, but it also helps public health in its mission of protecting the community so its vitally important that individuals do respond to those calls,” said Jaberi.

Jaberi says all of the information they collect is confidential and only used by public health investigators. If you’re skeptical of the phone call, you can always call your local health department to verify.