COVID-19 Testing, Investigation, Contact Tracing

The Department of Health this week shared an update on Pennsylvania’s COVID-19 case investigation and contact tracing data. Secretary Levine said that the initial round of universal testing at SNFs and LTC facilities, without sharing the data itself.  But Johns Hopkins University released information that said Pennsylvania gives fewer tests per capita than any other state in the country.

“In order to successfully mitigate the spread of COVID-19, we use proven public health strategies such as case investigations, contact tracing efforts and ongoing monitoring and rely on Pennsylvanians to do their part to answer the call,” Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine said. “We have a growing team of dedicated professionals equipped to do this work and truly make a difference, but we need our fellow Pennsylvanians to pick up the phone when they call, share where they went and who they came in contact with to complete a case investigation. We are all united in this together, so please make the right choice to answer the call, it will help to stop this virus in its tracks before it could affect more of our loved ones, co-workers or friends across the state.”

The contact tracing process is not possible without a case investigation by a public health professional. Between Sunday, August 16 and Saturday, August 22, there were 4,536 COVID-19 cases statewide and 78 percent of all cases had a case investigation started within 24 hours of receiving the positive report.

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 who the case came in contact with and where they went while they were infectious. Information collected during the case investigation process is not shared publicly unless doing so would further the response.

After the initial case investigation is complete, contact tracing begins. Within that same time period, August 16 to August 22, there were 1,242 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. The total number of contact tracing staff has increased by 132 since last week as new staff is hired and onboarded through a partnership with Insight Global.

Of the 1,242 contact tracers there are 71 volunteers, 10 care resource managers, and 30 contact tracing supervisors. These staff monitored 9,335 contacts that were identified during the case investigations.

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.

All of the approximately 127,000 residents of long-term care facilities across Pennsylvania ― where more than 67% of the state’s COVID-19 deaths have occurred ― have been tested for the coronavirus, state officials said Tuesday.  Dr. Levine and Secretary Miller of DHS did not say how many of the residents have tested positive, but called it a “baseline” to help curtail future outbreaks.

According to the latest data from Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center, released Tuesday, Pennsylvania gives fewer COVID tests per capita than any other state in the country. Per 100,000 residents, Pennsylvania has given 12,879 COVID tests, meaning we have tested about 12.9 percent of the population. States at the top of the list include Rhode Island (close to 48 percent), Alaska (about 47 percent), New York (42 percent), Louisiana (40 percent) and New Mexico (36 percent).