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HARRISBURG, Pa. - The Pennsylvania Department of Health Wednesday talked about its efforts to do contact tracing in order to help contain the spread of COVID-19 in the state.

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 in a news release.

The department said it's expanding its efforts to tackle any COVID-19 surges in cases by enlisting volunteers, forming regional partnerships and hiring contact tracing staff.

Currently, Pennsylvanians share on average one to ten contacts. The department said its estimates show that the state needs about 625 contact tracers. The number could grow if there is a resurgence of COVID-19 in the fall, the department said.

As of the July 2020 report released July 13, there were 649 contact tracers.

The department provided a breakdown of the numbers in each regional health district in Pennsylvania:

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 the health districts, the state 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. The regional partnerships consist of community business organizations, employers, federally qualified health centers, county human services organizations, foundations and health systems, and colleges and universities, according to the department's news release.

The Department of Health said it is hiring contact tracing field managers and community health nurses to strengthen contact tracing needs throughout the state. The department said 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, the department said.

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

The web-based monitoring tool enables contact tracers to send daily emails, texts and/or phone calls to cases and identified close contacts throughout their isolation/quarantine monitoring period. The technology enhances the contact tracer's ability to promptly respond and provide guidance to symptomatic people, 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,” said Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine. “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.”

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