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Which contacts of COVID-19 patients are being traced?

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

Immediately after being notified that she tested positive for COVID-19 last month, Jennifer Burrill began making a list of everywhere she’d been and everyone she’d come into contact with since March 3. That’s the date she first began experiencing a sickness, similar to seasonal allergies, that she now worries was actually the virus.

Jennifer Burrill

The 48-year-old public defender and vice president of the New Mexico Criminal Defense Lawyers Association came up with 74 names, which she provided to the New Mexico Department of Health.

But the DOH epidemiologists conducted active contact tracing and monitoring only of people who had a close interaction with her between March 18 and the time she began home isolation after experiencing a vicious coughing fit three days later, according to a letter sent to the boss at the Law Office of the Public Defender. That was hardly anyone, Burrill said.

“Based on the information obtained from the case investigation, our understanding of COVID-19 epidemiology in New Mexico, and following consultation with a medical epidemiologist from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), NMDOH believes that the risk of transmission following exposure to the public defender prior to March 18th, 2020, is very low,” the letter states.

A LOPD spokeswoman said no other public defenders have tested positive for the virus.

On her part, Burrill said she’s still baffled as to where and when she was infected.

“I don’t know anyone who has tested positive,” Burrill said in a phone interview. “But I definitely got it from somebody.”

These days, Burrill said she is still exhausted but is not experiencing any more symptoms and has been cleared to leave the house. When she was sick, she had a constant sharp pain in her chest, was frequently out of breath, had a headache and painful coughing fits unlike anything she has ever experienced.

But she did not have a fever, one of the tell-tale signs medical providers were using to determine if a person should be tested for COVID-19. The state has since opened up the testing guidelines so even people who are not showing symptoms can be tested if they know they came into close contact with someone who had the virus.

Burrill said her mother was tested and did not get COVID-19 and that she has not been told she infected anyone else. She said when she was working, prior to going into isolation, she was taking precautions to keep herself and the public safe.

“I was shutting the door to my office and working in my little cube as much as I could. Every time someone came in, I would wipe down the whole office, wipe down the door knobs,” Burrill said. “I was trying to keep it as safe for me and everyone else as possible.”


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