Myra Ching-Lee Hawaii State Department of Health Epidemiological Specialist

Inside the COVID-19 case investigation process with State Epidemiological Specialist Myra Ching-Lee.

“Tracing the origins of a positive COVID-19 case is much like trying to solve a crime,” says Myra Ching-Lee, one of the Hawaii Department of Health’s (DOH) most experienced epidemiological specialists with more than 25 years on the job.

When the DOH Disease Investigation Branch team receives test results from private labs, the real work for its disease detectives begins, piecing together information about a patient’s case. We asked Ching-Lee to explain some of the tricky, difficult work involved in tracking down the vital details of a person who tests positive for COVID-19.

When COVID-19 test results come back positive, what steps are taken right away? ​

A member of our team is assigned to the report and initiates an investigation. We confirm the lab result and diagnosis with the physician, identify any health care professionals who may not have taken proper precautions in evaluating the patient, contact and interview the patient, and determine the source of the infection. We also try to determine any contacts relevant to the case in order to minimize further spread of the virus. “Contact tracing” is a critical component to containing the spread of this illness in the community.

What is the most difficult of these steps and why?

Determining the risks of the exposure to others, in addition to contacting various persons to get accurate and timely information, can be difficult. We realize people want to know the full history right away, but this process takes time to get it right.

What’s a COVID-19 misconception you want to correct with Hawaii residents? 

The idea that it only affects older people or that younger people shouldn’t worry about contracting it is a fallacy. Everyone has the potential of getting infected with COVID-19. Thinking you are not at risk only puts those most vulnerable to the disease in greater danger of becoming ill.

What has given you the most hope thus far in your work on the COVID-19 situation in Hawaii?

​The fact that Hawaii has an incredible team of thousands of health care workers across the state tirelessly looking out for the best interests of our residents and communities is encouraging and comforting. Here at DOH, we have a very experienced, passionate team working daily and, in some cases, around the clock to ensure our community is safe. As each day passes, we’re seeing even greater collaboration from the public and private sectors, all focused on the same goal of ending the spread of COVID-19 in our community. We’ll get there by continuing to work together going forward.