11 Investigates contact tracing: Does Pa. have enough people to do it?

11 Investigates contact tracing: Does Pa. have enough people to do it?

PITTSBURGH — Contact tracing is used to identify people who may have come into contact with coronavirus and isolate them to keep the virus from spreading.

But with cases rising rapidly, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to reach those people quickly.

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Before the pandemic, the state Department of Health had 100 nurses throughout the state that also did contact tracing in counties that don’t have health departments. As of Thursday, they had 518 contact tracers with plans to add 100 more.

“We’ve been doing this for a long time before COVID-19. We do this with a lot of other viruses, the flu, tuberculosis, things that can spread in the community,” said director of prevention at AHN Juliet Ferrelli.

She said the contact tracing begins as soon as a positive case is confirmed.

“One we know how many people they’ve contacted, we reach out to those people, kind of confirm the interaction and see if they’re at risk. Then we ask those folks to kind of self quarantine, stay home for those 14 days to monitor for symptoms so that they’re not going out in the community and spreading it further,” Ferrelli said.

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Allegheny County has 18 workers assigned to contact tracing. When cases started to spike last week, contact tracers linked it to out of state travel and gatherings at bars.

Some public health experts have suggested that Pennsylvania may ultimately need more than 2,000 contact tracers. The state said they will continue to add more people as needed.

Lawmakers weigh benefits of digital contact tracing with privacy protections