HARRISBURG, PA — The Department of Health has 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 763,000 have already done to aid in contact tracing efforts. All 67 counties have substantial COVID-19 transmission rates.
“We continue to thank those who answer the call when public health professionals have called to complete their case investigation as this helps notify close contacts of their exposure as well as making a difference in the fight against COVID-19, but I believe we can do more,” Acting Secretary of Health Alison Beam said. “I hope all Pennsylvanians play an active role in this fight by doing the right thing – answering the call, wearing a mask, avoiding gatherings and downloading COVID Alert PA. We know these public health practices will help prevent spread. We know that completing a case investigation can help us perform effective contact tracing. We know we can unite and fight this virus together by doing the right thing.”
The contact tracing process is not possible without a case investigation by a public health professional. Across the commonwealth, there are 258 case investigators who reach out to incoming cases who are younger than 19 and older than 64 to find out where they went and with whom they came into contact 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 or municipal health department, they will be contacted by a contact tracer to complete a Connect & Protect Form to initiate a digital case investigation in effort to connect to more people.
For this reporting week between Sunday, January 10 and Saturday, January 16, there were 46,708 COVID-19 cases statewide. Of those cases reported within that week, 18 percent, or 8,407 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 five percent, or 2,335 cases, had a case investigation started within 48 hours.
Although public health professionals may call to start the case investigation, the case may not answer the call on the first attempt. The Department of Health leaves voicemails, texts, and sends a letter to the home requesting a return call. There were 6,539 people, or 14 percent of cases, in this reported week that were successfully contacted by a public health professional statewide.
In addition to the traditional case investigations, contact tracers will call to reach the case and share a Connect & Protect Form to initiate a digital case investigation. There are now a total of 325 contact tracers working to assist this process specifically. For this reporting week between Sunday, January 10 and Saturday, January 16, Contact tracers made 6,070 calls to reach 44 percent, or 2,682 individuals, successfully. Of the 2,263 that were sent forms, 36 percent, or 812 were returned. Since the implementation of the form on December 21, 2020 until January 16, we have received over 2,400 completed forms.
Therefore, there were 7,351 individuals, or roughly 16 percent of cases, who successfully completed a case investigation this week.
After the initial case investigation is complete, contact tracing begins. Within the same time period of January 10 to January 16, there were 1,407 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 7,042 contacts who were identified during the case investigations, an increase of over 2,500 contacts from 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 also help to refer Pennsylvanians to services during quarantine across the commonwealth.
Since the implementation of the Contact Tracing Management System in early October through January 16 in those areas of the state where Pennsylvania Department of Health is responsible for contact tracing, 63,444 of 83,554 contacts, or 76 percent of the total contacts identified, were effectively reached to communicate their quarantine status and offer ongoing symptom monitoring.
Between January 10 and January 16, there have been:
- 6,285 contacts have been processed for areas where PA DOH has jurisdiction;
- 4,416 people, or 76 percent of the total contacts identified, have been effectively reached to communicate their quarantine status and offer ongoing symptom monitoring;
- 924 people, or about 15 percent of the total contacts, were not reached; and
- 875 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 allow 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 1,032 cases that confirmed their positivity and uploaded their random IDs through the app. These uploads generated 529 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, 70 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.
The Department of Health stated organizations and entities interested in partnering in these efforts should reach out to [email protected].
You can find more information on the state’s contact tracing efforts at the Department of Health’s website here.
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