Success stories show contact tracing works, but only when people help

This story was reported by David Boraks of WFAE, Nate Morabito of WCNC-TV and Lauren Lindstrom of The Charlotte Observer as part of the Charlotte Journalism Collaborative.

David Boraks
September 11, 2020

Public health officials across North Carolina are continuing to use contact tracing in hopes of limiting spread of the coronavirus. When it works, they can pinpoint the origin of an outbreak, map it and ask people to quarantine. But area health departments have successfully traced only a few large outbreaks. More often, they meet resistance as people refuse to share information or follow quarantine requests.

Cedric Meekins of Concord is a music teacher at a Charlotte charter school. A couple of weeks after a trip to a music conference in Ohio in March, he came down with COVID-19. He wound up in the hospital, surrounded by even sicker patients.

“Two gentlemen came in, and they were placed in the room on my left and my right, who did not make it through the weekend,” the 54-year-old Meekins said. “One was 10 years younger than me. One was four years older than me. And they did not make it. And they were on ventilators, as well.”

Meekins spent 11 days on a ventilator. Eventually, he needed help relearning how to do basic things, like walk and write with a pen.

As he recovered, he got a call from Cabarrus Health Alliance, the health department in Cabarrus County. They wanted to figure out where he contracted the virus and who else he had been around.

“We concluded that it had to have taken place during my travels to Cincinnati, either on the plane or in the airport,” he said. “I will say the return flight was packed. (Or) the airport because it was busy in Cincinnati returning.”

Meekins told health officials that when he first returned, he had no symptoms and continued going to school.

“For two weeks, I was around children. I was around parents. I was around my colleagues coughing, you know, embracing people,” he said.

But the contact tracing turned out to be easy: Not one of his colleagues, students or friends contracted the coronavirus.

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This story was produced by the Charlotte Journalism Collaborative, a partnership of six media companies working together in an effort started by the Solutions Journalism Network and funded by The Knight Foundation.