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Department of Health Dec. 13-19 Update On COVID-19 Investigations, Contact Tracing, Monitoring Efforts: Pennsylvanians Urged To “Answer the Call” And Download the COVID App

12/28/2020

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 720,000 have already done, to aid in contact tracing efforts. All 67 counties have substantial COVID-19 transmission rates.

“Last week we launched the Connect & Protect Form to reach many more Pennsylvanians for a digital case investigation, but that still requires residents to answer the call. We continue to ask all Pennsylvanians to answer the call – answer the call when a public health professional is calling and answer the call to do your part to control the spread of COVID-19 by wearing a mask, social distancing, avoiding gatherings, downloading the COVID Alert PA,” Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine said. “Together, by using these tools, we can stand united in the fight against COVID-19.”

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.

Across the commonwealth, there are 266 case investigators who reach out to incoming cases who are younger than 19 and older than 64 to find out where they went and who they came in contact with in order to prevent outbreaks while infectious. This case investigation typically takes between 30 and 60 minutes to complete. For those who are between 19 and 64 years old and reside in an area without their own county of municipal health department, they will be contacted by a contact tracer to complete a Connect & Protect Form as a digital case investigation. 

Between Sunday, December 13 and Saturday, December 19, there were 63,870 COVID-19 cases statewide and 15 percent, or 9,581 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 three percent, or 1,916 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 8,303 people, or 13 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 13 to December 19, there were 1,682 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 8,747 contacts who were identified during the case investigations.

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.

Since the implementation of the Contact Tracing Management System in early October through December 19 in those areas of the state where Pennsylvania Department of Health is responsible for contact tracing, there have been:

  • 68,800 contacts have been processed for areas where PA DOH has jurisdiction; 
  • 52,500 people, or 76 percent of the total contacts identified, have been effectively reached to communicate their quarantine status and offer ongoing symptom monitoring; 
  • 13,200 people, or about 19 percent of the total contacts, were not reached; and  
  • 500 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 584 cases that confirmed their positivity and uploaded their random ID’s through the app. These uploads generated 283 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, 44 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, 717-787-1783 or ra-dhpressoffice@pa.gov

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