Contact tracing made a high priority at Ho-Chunk gaming sites


By HCN Public Relations Officer Ken Luchterhand

Contact tracing is an important component in the fight against the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

That’s why the staff at the Ho-Chunk Gaming facilities have made contact tracing a high priority to keep its patrons and employees safe.

Safety officers from each of the casinos have completed training by Johns Hopkins University and are certified to conduct contact tracing procedures.

One of the key components to contact tracing is identifying people who have the virus and those who came into contact with anyone who may have the virus. Another component of contact tracing is identifying workplace situations where close proximity may be necessary as part of the job and investigate ways to change that practice.

“Since the early stages of this pandemic, our facility has taken a very proactive response to protect our employees and our guests,” said Matthew Zarnoth, security director at Ho-Chunk Gaming – Madison. “We recognized early that unmitigated spread within the facility could strain our ability to sustain operations so we developed a process for screening which employees were symptomatic, exposed, or infected with COVID-19. Any cases we experienced could be coordinated through our Safety Officer to ensure that any infections were contained and did not spread internally.”

Initially, contact tracing was coordinated with the Department of Health, but it was recognized that casino staff was positioned to be able to respond faster if they traced exposure internally, focusing on workplace exposure rather than the scope of contact tracing that the Department of Health would do, Zarnoth said.

“With that, we began researching methods for contact tracing and Safety Officer Antonina Singer discovered a free online training through John Hopkins that certified in contact tracing,” he said. “Nina and I both completed that course and we began conducting internal contact tracing in coordination with the Department of Health shortly after. At some point afterward the Department of Business became aware of our efforts and mandated that the Safety Officers at all of our gaming facilities be trained in contact tracing and replicate our process.”

Nina’s efforts have set the standard for pandemic response and have been instrumental in their ability to sustain this crisis, Zarnoth said.

“Before the shutdowns, she recognized supply chain challenges the pandemic would create so we were able to plan accordingly to get necessary supplies and PPE. Being the first property to open, she drafted the first safety and reopening plan that allowed us to open safely, and allowed the other properties a starting point on their plans to reopen. She’s a brilliant woman and has been working her tail off to keep our business going strong and our people safe and she deserves a lot of credit for that,” Zarnoth said.

Ho-Chunk Gaming – Madison Executive Manager Dan Brown said that Zarnoth has been a stalwart during the pandemic and has maintained extreme vigilance on the status of this disease so that the casino managers, security officers, and safety officers are on the cutting edge of decision-making.

“The stress and strain of this environment since March 17, 2020, when we closed down has been intense, to say the least,” Brown said. “And with the politicization of the issue, it created chasms within the facility that had to be skillfully navigated so that we could operate sensibly and safely.”

“Matt has been highly instrumental in keeping the science aspect of this issue at the forefront, being highly conscientious that our gaming facilities are the lifeblood of the tribe. Matt and Nina have been a dynamic duo during this unprecedented time. I’m very proud of their always forward-thinking leadership,” Brown said.