In November of 1969, I became very ill. I was freezing cold, curled up on the heat register of my house and wondered what was the matter. I had other troubling symptoms, including my eyes turning yellow, that alerted me that I needed to get help. I saw a doctor, learned that I had hepatitis A and moved back in with my parents for a two month rest and recuperation. I slept a great deal, ate a lot of white rice since I could digest it easily, and waited for the disease to be over.
After a couple of weeks, I was visited by an official from the county health department. Hepatitis A was a reportable disease and he needed to try to figure out how I had become infected. No one in my family had the bug, nor did my closest friends, so he made a list of all the places I had eaten out. He took this information back to the office and continued with the very laborious process of mapping all the places I had eaten food. He did this for other new cases of the disease also. Eventually he found a cluster of pins on his map at the Tastee-Freez drive-in. Armed with this information, he was able to go to the place, interview the workers, identify and isolate the ill employee. He also closed the restaurant for inadequate sanitary procedures.
I remembered this when I began to read of what it will take to reopen my state’s businesses. When the disease is sufficiently contained, when there is adequate testing both for the illness and for antibodies to the virus, new cases will prompt a thorough contact tracing outward from the new victim. This is a kind of reverse of the process I was involved in. In this new mapping, the known carrier is the starting point, and her contacts will be quarantined and monitored.
Many Americans have lost any understanding of PUBLIC health. We have competent health professionals who continue to try to minimize disease throughout a community. I am not just responsible for my own health, but for others’ as well. I welcome the contact tracing to come, knowing it is an effective check of the rampant spread of any disease.