Meet Asante’s top COVID-19 contact tracer
“You’re on the list.” When it comes to COVID-19 contact tracing, that’s a list on which you do not want to see your name.
“One thing about COVID that’s difficult is the uncertainty,” said Megan Frost, MD. “To call someone and say, ‘You’ve had an exposure, but I can’t tell you anything about it,’ brings more questions than answers, and a lot of fear.”
Dr. Frost is a general surgeon with Asante Physician Partners in Grants Pass. When the pandemic hit Southern Oregon and hospitals stopped doing elective surgeries and other procedures to save on supplies of personal protective equipment, Dr. Frost was tapped to become Asante’s first contact tracing director.
With a master’s degree in public health, and temporarily freed up from elective surgeries, Dr. Frost transitioned into this role when the need arose at Asante Employee Health.
In March, when the first Asante employee tested positive for COVID-19 in Josephine County, Asante’s contact tracing kicked into gear. Through the tracing process, Dr. Frost and her team quickly determined this was a case of community-acquired infection.
“When an employee or a patient tests positive, we get a list of anyone who may have been exposed to that person,” Dr. Frost said. “It’s a challenging conversation because privacy laws prohibit us from identifying the infected person. We can only speak generally about when and where you may have been exposed.”
The list of contacts for just one infected person can be long. In July, when several employees tested positive at Asante Rogue Regional Medical Center, 200 employees were contacted and tested. “And that’s just within Asante,” Dr. Frost said. “The connections outside our walls are traced by the public health department.”
Collating the list, getting contact information and making the phone call takes time, sometimes two to three days or more. “In the meantime, people talk. They think they know who the infected person is, and they get scared. That feeling often turns to anger, so we’re dealing with intense emotions while trying to put the employee’s mind at ease,” Dr. Frost said.
Even if the exposure risk is low, Asante’s tracing is aggressive to avoid missing someone who may have been exposed. “Health care workers follow rigorous safety protocols which help keep their risk of infection low. That’s what we focus on to help employees overcome their fear.”
When an employee or patient tests positive for COVID-19, Asante has well-established processes to stop the spread of infection. “The July case was already contained before we knew we had an outbreak,” said Dr. Frost. “The effectiveness of our processes was proven by the fact that everyone we tested, about 200 employees, all came back negative.”
With demand for surgeries returning, Dr. Frost is back in the operating room while continuing to oversee Asante’s contact tracing team.
“I’m proud of how hard our employees have worked in response to COVID, coming to work and putting their lives at risk. That’s not something they’ve done before. They’re doing it out of respect for our community.
“We want to take care of our community and are honoring that commitment, while at the same time, we’re dealing with our own fears and uncertainties. Most days you want things to be normal again, but then you know you’ve got to buckle down and treat it like the problem it is.”
MEGAN FROST, MD, MPH
At Asante: General surgeon, APP; director of Asante employee contact tracing
Education: Medical degree, University of Kansas; surgical training, Oregon Health & Science University; master’s in public health, University of Cape Town, South Africa
Patient rating: Five stars
Hobbies: Running, baking, cultivating fruit farms with her husband
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