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 to aid in contact tracing efforts.
“Contact tracing is an important and expanding public health strategy to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 while informing any close contacts about their exposure anonymously, and we appreciate that Pennsylvanians are doing their part to answer the call,” Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine said. “For case investigations, it is important for our fellow Pennsylvanians to pick up the phone when public health professionals call to ensure that public health staff can inform them of the important steps they can take to protect their communities and those close to them. If you are a close contact, we need you to answer the call to stop this virus in its tracks before it could affect your loved ones, co-workers or friends across the state.”
Contact tracing is the process of identifying, notifying, and monitoring anyone who came in close contact with an individual who tested positive for COVID-19 while they were 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 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 help the department in its efforts to stop the spread on a broader scale. Between Sunday, September 20 and Saturday, September 26, there were 5,722 COVID-19 cases statewide and 55 percent of all cases had a case investigation started within 24 hours of receiving the positive report.
After the initial case investigation is complete, contact tracing begins. Within the same time period of September 20 to September 26, there were 1,287 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, 540 paid employees have been onboarded through a partnership with Insight Global. An additional 460 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 9,203 contacts that 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 their identity or location. This app helps the contact tracing process by identifying and notifying those identified as a close contact through Bluetooth technology when the COVID-19 case does not remember who they may have come in contact with while infectious, like the lady you sat next to on the bus or the man you sat next to on the 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.
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 and all available contact tracing positions at the Department of Health’s website here.
Pennsylvanians are reminded that mask-wearing is required when visiting businesses or in any setting outside the home where social distancing is difficult. Remember: My mask protects you; your mask protects me.
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.
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