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Making sense of COVID-19 protocols: Northeast Ohio health departments answer your FAQs

Chances are you've been affected directly or indirectly by a positive COVID case. Do you know what to do?

MENTOR, Ohio — With COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations surging past previous records, county health departments in Northeast Ohio have been busy answering questions on how to handle a positive COVID case.

"We've been getting questions from many businesses wanting to know what to do if an employee tests positive," Dan Lark, Director of Environmental Health for the Lake County General Health District, said.

New October data for Lake County show six workplaces had 19 positive cases, leading to the quarantine of as many as 63 people. Lark said spread is happening when employees take their masks off to eat lunch but do not socially distance from their colleagues.

When someone does test positive, Lark instructs them to isolate for at least 10 days, in accordance with guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control. Close contacts of that person should quarantine for 14 days. A close contact is defined by someone who is within 6 feet for a total of 15 minutes or longer in a 24-hour period.

Contacts of the close contacts--or people with second-degree exposure--do not need to quarantine, as they are considered at low risk.

"If we do get a hold of [second-degree contacts], we just tell them to monitor their symptoms and just be careful," Lark explained.

Another common question: Why do positive patients have to isolate for 10 days, but those who were in close contact have to quarantine for 14 days, a longer period of time?

"If you're in isolation, we know you have the disease," Donna Skoda, Health Commissioner for the Summit County Public Health Department, answered.

The CDC considers you disease-free after 10 days of isolation and being fever-free, without medication, for 24 hours. On the other hand, close contacts could become ill anytime during a 14-day quarantine period.

"It's hard for people to understand that if you have the disease, your time could be shorter," Skoda told 3News. "Any time, you could break with the disease within those 14 days [if you are a close contact]."

Skoda adds employers are not advised to require a recovered worker to test negative before returning to work, since they could still harbor traces of the virus for as long as 90 days. After a 10-day isolation without symptoms, "we consider you to be disease-free. You may still have virus remnants, but you are not contagious."

Both Skoda and Lark urged Ohioans to wear masks, socially distance, and avoid social gatherings. Lark cited one outbreak in Lake County last month in which a young person did not quarantine as instructed and attended a Halloween party. The mistake led to more than 60 people being quarantined and nine positive COVID-19 cases.