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Dept. of Health announces effort to expand contact tracing in Pennsylvania

The state needs about 625 contact tracers. That number could grow into hundreds, or even thousands, depending on the rate of COVID-19 resurgence in the fall.
Credit: WPMT

HARRISBURG, Pa. — The state Department of Health provided an update Wednesday on its contract tracing efforts as the COVID-19 outbreak continues.

Contact tracing is the process of identifying, notifying, and monitoring anyone who came in close contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19 while they were infectious, the Department said.

“Across Pennsylvania, we have dedicated public health professionals who truly are the backbone of contact tracing, working alongside our regional partnerships, staff and volunteers,” Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine said in a press release. “As COVID-19 cases increase, we continue our efforts to support, strengthen and expand in order to conquer any potential surge in COVID-19 cases. 

"Without case investigations, the proven public health strategies, like contact tracing efforts and monitoring, would not be possible. Contact tracing is critical to identify any instances of community spread and prevent larger outbreaks to keep Pennsylvania safe from COVID-19.”

To that end, the Department said, it is continuing to expand and build the infrastructure for statewide contract tracing efforts.This expansion includes volunteers, regional partnerships and hiring contact tracing staff.

According to its current estimates, the Department said, Pennsylvania needs about 625 contact tracers. But, it warns, the number could grow into hundreds, or even thousands, depending on the rate of COVID-19 resurgence in the fall.

Pennsylvania currently has 661 contract tracers, an increase of 12 from the total released in the July 2020 report, which was released July 13.

Those 649 contract tracers are located across the following regions in Pennsylvania, according to the Department:

  • Northcentral District: 37 contact tracers
  • South Central District: 73 contact tracers
  • Northeast District: 69 contact tracers
  • Southeast District: 380 contact tracers
  • Northwest District: 29 contact tracers
  • Southwest District: 61 contact tracers

Within each of these health districts, the Department of Health said it is working to gather a number of outside organizations to discuss the contact tracing needs and any potential problems and solutions in the various regions across the state. 

These regional partnerships consist of community business organizations, employers, federally qualified health centers, county human services organizations, foundations and health systems, and colleges and universities, the Department said.

The Department of Health said it is hiring contact tracing field managers and community health nurses to strengthen contact tracing needs throughout the state. Contact tracing field managers would allow each coordinator to foster relationships with their regional partners and manage contact tracers within their respective region. Community health nurses will assist with COVID-19 case investigations.

Between June 29 and July 13, contact tracers have enrolled 3,638 contacts in the Sara Alert system. The Sara Alert, working alongside our disease surveillance system, offers contact tracers the ability to track, monitor, isolate and test symptomatic contacts and is further enhanced by the use of technology applications. 

This web-based monitoring tool enable contact tracers to send daily emails, texts and/or phone calls to cases and identified close contacts throughout their isolation/quarantine monitoring period. This technology enhances the contact tracer's ability to promptly respond and provide guidance to symptomatic individuals.

For more information on contact tracing, please visit the Department of Health's website here