The Department of Health announced a staffing adjustment to support long-term care investigation and contact tracing efforts by promoting 100 contact tracers to case investigator staff while temporarily scaling back 500 contact tracers’ hours by 20 percent through the existing staffing contract with Insight Global.
“Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, we continue to assess our needs to best support case investigations and contact tracing efforts and ensure staff have sufficient workloads. We are grateful for this ongoing partnership with Insight Global that nearly tripled the existing staff since July,” said Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine. “Now, as Pennsylvania continues to report thousands of residents diagnosed with COVID-19 each day, we need to promote some tracers to case investigators and also scale back our current tracing hours to ensure we will have funding available for a longer period to effectively continue monitoring the close contacts identified in case investigations.”
There are 1,631 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. Currently, 1,090 people have been hired through Insight Global. Effective Monday, Dec. 14, 500 tracing staff will have shortened hours, resulting in a work week of 32 hours.
Across the commonwealth, there are now 230 case investigators who reach out to incoming cases to find out where they went and who they came in contact with while infectious. As COVID-19 numbers climb past 12,000 cases reported in a day, Levine said these cases need to be prioritized. Between Nov. 22 and 28, there were 4,198 people (9 percent) of 46,653 cases in this reported week that were successfully contacted by a public health professional statewide. Then, contact tracers follow up and successfully monitor between 5,000-10,000 close contacts collected during the case investigation on average each week.
“Each and every one of these tracers have played a vital part in supporting the fight against COVID-19 here in Pennsylvania,” said Levine. “We are grateful to every tracer who joined this fight and continues to advocate for Pennsylvania to stay safe while COVID-19 remains a threat in our communities. We need Pennsylvanians to answer the call, this is how we gather close contacts through case investigations to contact trace. While we continue to reach out to these prioritized cases, we are creating digital supports like a case investigation survey and encouraging residents to download the COVID Alert PA app.”
The free mobile app 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. There have been more than 685,000 downloads thus far.
According to Levine, there have been 409 cases that confirmed their positivity and uploaded their random IDs through the app. These uploads generated 209 exposure alerts to persons who have downloaded the app on their phones and who were in close contact (6 feet for 15 minutes or more) to the case. Of those who received the alerts, 34 individuals requested a call back for further assistance from a trained contact tracer.