DOH Updates COVID-19 investigation and contact tracing with resurgence of virus spread
The Department of Health on Monday shared its weekly update on Pennsylvania’s COVID-19 case investigation and contact tracing data and encouraged Pennsylvanians to download the COVID Alert PA app to aid in contact tracing efforts.
“As we continue to see a rise in cases, we need to complete case investigations and perform contact tracing to help stop the spread of COVID-19 in its tracks. We cannot effectively stop the spread unless Pennsylvanians do their part: answer the call,” Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine said.
Contact tracing is the process of identifying, notifying, and monitoring anyone who came in close contact with an individual who has COVID-19 while that individual was infectious. The contact tracing process is not possible without a case investigation by a public health professional. Case investigators make the initial call to those with positive COVID-19 test results.
During the case investigation, public health professionals spend 30 to 60 minutes asking questions to ensure all potential close contacts are identified. They collect information about with whom the individual came in contact and where the individual went while infectious. Information collected during the case investigation process is not shared publicly unless doing so would help the department in its efforts to stop the spread on a broader scale.
Between Sunday, October 11 and Saturday, October 17, there were 9,754 COVID-19 cases statewide and 35 percent of all cases had a case investigation started within 24 hours of receiving the positive report. Public health professionals will continue calling to complete the case investigation after the 24-hour period.
After the initial case investigation is complete, contact tracing begins. Within the same time period of October 11 to October 17, there were 1,435 contact tracing staff working with local and county health entities, partner organizations and the Regional Response Health Collaboration Program within the Department of Human Services as well as volunteers from Co-County Wellness in Berks County and Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health.
Currently, 790 paid employees have been onboarded through a partnership with Insight Global. An additional 210 paid staff will be hired through the end of October. These new positions include contact tracing supervisors and care resource coordinators, who will help to refer Pennsylvanians to services during quarantine.
These staff monitored 8,757 contacts who were identified during the case investigations.
On September 22, the department launched COVID Alert PA, a free mobile app that uses Bluetooth technology to let a person know that they have been exposed to COVID-19 without compromising the identity or location of either the person using the app, or of the person to whom they may have been exposed. There have been over 355,000 downloads thus far.
This app helps the contact tracing process by identifying and notifying those people identified as close contacts through Bluetooth technology when a person with COVID-19 does not remember everyone with whom they may have come in contact while infectious; for example, the someone they sat next to on a bus. To best support those close contacts identified through the app, there are contact tracers specifically assigned to support if those close contacts would like to talk to someone and ask questions about their next steps.
As the contact tracing program expands, the Department of Health continues to work in partnership with over 150 organizations, in addition to the county and municipal health departments, through regional partnerships to help gather and answer questions, identify problems and find solutions to improve contact tracing efforts within the region. Each regional partnership has met at least once, and includes public health staff, health providers, academic institutions, community organizations, and other stakeholders interested in helping to coordinate and engage around contact tracing efforts.
You can find more information on the state’s contact tracing efforts and all available contact tracing positions at the Department of Health’s website here.