PEABODY — The city got a good head start on its surveillance program not only because of Public Health Nurse Chassea Robinson's work, but the fact that school nurses work for the city's Health Department.

These nurses include Brenda Wolff, as the school nurse leader, and 12 full-time school nurses. The other advantage of using school nurses, said Health Director Sharon Cameron, is that some are bilingual so they can provide support to Spanish and Portuguese-speaking residents dealing with COVID-19.

Robinson is alerted to those residents who test positive by logging on to the state's infectious disease data collection system called MAVEN (Massachusetts Virtual Epidemiologic Network). The system tracks about 90 reportable diseases in the state, among them COVID-19. Some of the school nurses, like Wolff, have been trained to use the system through a webinar offered by the state.

The nurses get a lab report, name, address, age and usually a phone number, Robinson said. The system also notifies the public health nurse of any contacts they need to follow-up with in Peabody of confirmed COVID-19 patients living in other cities and towns. Conversely, the school nurses use the system to share information about contacts a Peabody patient may have had with people in other communities.

Robinson said when they interview someone, they ask about what types of symptoms led the patient to be tested, which also helps the nurses work backward to find out when the patient might have become infectious. They also look at whether the patient traveled to a country where COVID-19 was spreading, or whether they were in contact with someone with similar symptoms. 

They then generate a list of people who might have been exposed, starting with household contacts and expanding the circle to coworkers and others. They discuss the need for a 14-day quarantine for close contacts who may be healthy, but who may be incubating the virus. 

"It's our job to help them have a successful time while they are isolated," Robinson said. They ask patients if they have enough food or if they have enough of their daily medications, and if they don't have anyone to shop for them, the Health Department can make those arrangements.

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