Department of Health Feb. 7-13 Update On COVID-19 Investigations, Contact Tracing, Monitoring Efforts

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HARRISBURG, PA — The Department of Health (DOH) 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 790,000 have already done to aid in contact tracing efforts. There are 40 counties in the substantial level of COVID-19 transmission rate.

“Thank you to all residents who are participating in their case investigation, both through the traditional means and through the Connect & Protect Form digital case investigation as well as the public health professionals who are working tirelessly to reach as many residents as possible each week,” Acting Secretary of Health Alison Beam said. “Remember, if you are diagnosed with COVID-19 and are between the ages of 19 and 64 living within a county without its own health department, you will receive a call from a contact tracer and will be asked to complete and return your form as a part of the case investigation process. By participating in this proven public health practice, you can help public health professionals to effectively contact trace in order to anonymously inform and monitor your close contacts who have been exposed.”

The agency states contact tracing process is not possible without a case investigation by a public health professional. Across the commonwealth, there are 200 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.

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For this reporting week between Saturday, February 7 – Sunday, February 13, there were 23,492 COVID-19 cases statewide. Of those cases reported within that week, 28 percent, or 6,578 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 eight percent, or 1,879 cases, had a case investigation started within 48 hours.

Although public health professionals may call to start the case investigation, the individual 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 5,781 people, or 25 percent of cases, in this reported week that were successfully contacted by a public health professional statewide.

In addition to the traditional case investigations, DOH stated contact tracers will call to reach 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 February 6 – February 13, contact tracers made 7,455 calls to reach 67 percent, or 4,957 individuals, successfully. Of the 4,225 that were sent forms, 36 percent, or 1,523 were returned. Since the implementation of the form on December 21, 2020 until February 13, DOH has received over 10,366 completed forms.

Therefore, there were 7,304 individuals, or more than 31 percent of cases, for whom a case investigation has been successfully completed this week.

After the initial case investigation is complete, contact tracing begins. Within the same time period of February 6 – 13, there were 1,538 contact tracing staff working with local and county health entities, partner organizations as well as volunteers from Co-County Wellness in Berks County and Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health. These staff monitored 5,262 contacts who were identified during the case investigations.

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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 February 13 in those areas of the state where Pennsylvania Department of Health is responsible for contact tracing, 82,400 of 108,000 contacts, or 76 percent of the total contacts identified, were effectively reached to communicate their quarantine status and offer ongoing symptom monitoring.

Between February 6 and February 13 there have been:

  • 4,637 contacts have been processed for areas where PA DOH has jurisdiction;
  • 3,251 people, or 70 percent of the total contacts identified, have been effectively reached to communicate their quarantine status and offer ongoing symptom monitoring;
  • 1,386 people, or about 30 percent of the total contacts, were not reached.

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.

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In addition to the traditional case investigations and contact tracing process, there have been 1,592 cases that confirmed their positivity and uploaded their random IDs through the app. These uploads generated 763 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, 105 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 [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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