Lakken Paulsrud of Valley City and eight other members of her husband’s family decided to go on a “girls weekend” trip to Minnesota July 17-19.

“We were all planning to go to my mother-in-law’s lake (cabin),” she said.

Paulsrud has extensive knowledge of coronavirus. She began training as a contact tracer in March when her inspection work as an environmental health practitioner for Central Valley Health District was suspended due to the pandemic and has been working out of her home since mid-March.

She said her sister had had some symptoms for COVID-19 and Paulsrud had been with her recently so she waited for her sister’s test to come back negative before deciding to go on the weekend trip. If she had tested positive, Paulsrud would have had to self-quarantine. Another family member who is a nurse had also gotten tested. Both tests were negative.

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“We thought we should all be sitting pretty good, we had those negative tests before we made sure it was a go for the weekend,” Paulsrud said. "And we got there (to Minnesota), and of course we did all of our activities ... so that’s pretty close contact for an entire weekend.”

Paulsrud returned home Sunday morning. A niece on the trip who said she felt like a “cat was sitting on her chest” tested positive for COVID-19 Sunday night. On Monday, Paulsrud learned a brother-in-law had tested positive.

Ultimately, four of the nine who went on the trip tested positive for COVID-19. Overall, 11 members of Paulsrud’s husband’s family have tested positive so far. None have had to be hospitalized.

Paulsrud, as a close contact with those on the trip who tested positive for COVID-19, had to be in isolation for 10 days and was released on the 10th day when her test came up negative. That was Aug. 3.

“All I can say is I just got lucky,” she said. “That’s all it is. I should have contracted it, having that close a contact (with others who tested positive) with that amount of time.”

Paulsrud said some of the relatives would have been infectious when they were on the trip. The brother-in-law who tested positive had tested the week before and they didn’t know about the test at the time of the trip.

“I felt pretty stupid,” she said. “I thought … ‘I know what I’m doing, I know how this works. I’ve been learning and training for this from the start and after it came about … you’re sitting in the same (situation) as everybody else.”

Paulsrud said she probably won’t participate in group activities like she did that weekend.

“It doesn’t mean that I will not hang out with people but I’m going to do it outside and I’m going to keep my 6 feet or more away from people, which I have continued to do,” she said.

As an environmental health practitioner for Central Valley Health, Paulsrud covers eight counties doing inspections. The Environmental Health Division for the health unit licenses and inspects food, beverage, pools, tattoos, tanning, school and day care facilities, among others. When inspections were suspended due to the pandemic, she and another employee were trained in contract tracing.

“This is not new work for us, we’ve always had this relationship with the state in helping them follow up with positive cases with disease when it’s contagious,” said Robin Iszler, unit administrator, Central Valley Health District. “It’s just that in COVID, obviously, we’re working much harder to meet this huge need at this time.”

Paulsrud said her inspection work has aided her contact tracing work, both being investigative in nature.

“I have traced people that have passed away and I have traced people that have been hospitalized, I’ve traced people that have been put on oxygen,” she said. “So I know how serious it can be. ...”

She said her work cases have increased since the pandemic began.

“When it first started you might get a (contact tracing) case once a week, once every two weeks, now we’re looking at getting … between three to five cases a day,” she said. “And people are just having way more contact. If you still want to go out and about, I can understand that. People just need to take that 6 feet (distance) thing more serious. And there’s a reason this virus is more contagious than influenza. It’s proven itself.”

She said for many people she connects with in her contact tracing work, they don’t realize the significance of what happens when someone tests positive. Not only does the person who tests positive have to be in isolation, the household contacts who live with the person have to quarantine - for up to 24 days.

She noted her husband’s family’s case didn’t affect just those on the trip, it affected all the husbands and children as well. That’s a common issue with her cases, she said. People don’t realize the greater impact on the household. The incubation period of the virus is nine days, so that’s why a person who tests positive is in isolation for 10 days. But the other people in that same household will quarantine longer.

“Those household contacts are continuously being exposed to a COVID positive individual (during that isolation period of the infected person),” she said.

So people in the household have to quarantine during the 10 days when that person who tests positive is in isolation. They also have to add 14 days from the last day when the person is released from isolation because it can take 14 days for the virus to grow.

“It affects your entire family. So putting yourself in those situations, just think twice,” she said. “Keep your distance. Stand back a couple feet. I’d like to say North Dakota’s pretty good at that, but you get into the bigger cities, there’s just less room.”