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Department of Health Dec. 6-12 Update on COVID-19 Investigations, Contact Tracing, Monitoring Efforts: Pennsylvanians Urged to “Answer the Call” and Download the COVID App

12/21/2020

Harrisburg, PA - The Department of Health today 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, as more than 707,000 have already done, to aid in contact tracing efforts. All 67 counties have substantial COVID-19 transmission rates.

“Each and every day, public health professionals across the state are committed to reaching as many new cases as soon as they can in order to determine where they went or who they were in close contact with while infectious,” Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine said. “As we add more resources and tools for Pennsylvanians to support those efforts, we ask for residents to use them. Please download the COVID Alert PA app and answer the call when a public health professional is calling you. By participating in the outreach of our public health staff and using the tools in our toolbox, Pennsylvanians play their part in stopping the spread of COVID-19 in our communities.”

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 spending 30 to 60 minutes asking questions to ensure all potential close contacts are identified. There are 230 case investigators throughout the commonwealth.

Today, the department announced a new tool called the Connect & Protect Form where contact tracers will now reach out to 19- through 64- year-old residents within the department’s jurisdiction to gather a digital case investigation. This process will allow public health professionals to reach more cases in an efficient timeframe to gather information relating to where the case went or who they came in contact with to support both case investigation and contact tracing efforts.

Between Sunday, December 6 and Saturday, December 12, there were 71,341 COVID-19 cases statewide, an increase of 8,648 cases compared to the previous seven-day period weekly numbers. Case investigations are being prioritized to address those cases that present the highest likelihood of leading to an outbreak. Of the 71,341 newly reported cases, 13 percent, or 9,274 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. An additional four percent, or 2,853 cases, had a case investigation started within 48 hours.

Although public health professionals may call to start the case investigation, not all cases to obtain additional information are successful. The Department of Health leaves voicemails, texts, and sends a letter to the home requesting a return call. There were 6,420 people, or 9 percent of cases, in this reported week that were successfully contacted by a public health professional statewide.

After the initial case investigation is complete, contact tracing begins. Within the same time period of December 6 to December 12, there were 1,675 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. These staff monitored 8,197 contacts who were identified during the case investigations, an increase of 1,844 additional close contacts monitored compared to last week.

Currently, all of the allotted 1,090 people have been hired through Insight Global. Some of these staff have been promoted to perform case investigations to meet the immediate needs of increased caseloads. There are 50 case investigators, 40 supervisors, and 10 resource coordinators who will help to refer Pennsylvanians to services during quarantine across the commonwealth. An additional 50 contact tracers will be promoted and trained to become case investigators over the next two weeks.

Since the implementation of the Contact Tracing Management System in early October through December 12 in those areas of the state where Pennsylvania Department of Health is responsible for contact tracing, there have been:

  • 62,700 contacts have been processed for areas where PA DOH has jurisdiction; 
  • 47,800 people, or 76 percent of the total contacts identified, have been effectively reached to communicate their quarantine status and offer ongoing symptom monitoring; 
  • 11,900 people, or about 19 percent of the total contacts, were not reached; and  
  • 1,700 were still in the process of being contacted.

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.

The Department of Health has made updates the COVID Alert PA app to include 13- through 17-year-old residents with parental consent to download the app and four new languages. This app is interoperable with 16 other states that also utilize the same notification exposure app technology.

In addition to the traditional case investigations and contact tracing process, there have been 527 cases that confirmed their positivity and uploaded their random ID’s through the app. These uploads generated 253 exposure alerts to persons who have downloaded the app on their phones and who were in close contact (six feet for 15 minutes or more) to the case. Of those who received the alerts, 41 individuals requested a call back for further assistance from a trained contact tracer.

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.

Organizations and entities interested in partnering in these efforts should reach out to RA-DHCONTACTTRACING@pa.gov.

You can find more information on the state’s contact tracing efforts at the Department of Health’s website here.

The Wolf Administration stresses the role Pennsylvanians play in helping to reduce the spread of COVID-19:

  • Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available.
  • Cover any coughs or sneezes with your elbow, not your hands.
  • Clean surfaces frequently.
  • Stay home to avoid spreading COVID-19, especially if you are unwell.
  • If you must go out, you are required to wear a mask when in a business or where it is difficult to maintain proper social distancing.
  • Download the COVID Alert PA app and make your phone part of the fight. The free app can be found in the Google Play Store and the Apple App Store by searching for “covid alert pa”.

Updated Coronavirus Links: Press Releases, State Lab Photos, Graphics

MEDIA CONTACT: April Hutcheson - ra-dhpressoffice@pa.gov

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