Some Allegheny County Residents Told To Conduct Contact Tracing On Their Own
Case investigators in Allegheny County are keeping up with new coronavirus cases at a higher rate than in other parts of Pennsylvania, but not everyone who tests positive will be contacted by a public health worker.
Those investigations and contact tracing are key to containing the virus. A newly infected person is often contagious before they experience COVID-19 symptoms. Notifying close contacts of their exposure helps prevent the virus from spreading further.
Case investigation and contact tracing conducted by the Pennsylvania Department of Health have had to ration this public health effort. A case investigator gathers information about where a person went and who they visited with while contagious, then a contact tracer reaches out to the people who were exposed to the virus. Allegheny County is still trying to reach the majority of new cases.
At a news conference Wednesday, the Allegheny County's top public health official said that if someone tested positive between November 6-22, but hasn’t received a call from a case investigator, it’s unlikely they will receive one.
"Even though you've not been called, if you've tested positive for COVID-19, you must follow isolation guidance," said Dr. Debra Bogen, director of the county health department.
Positive cases must isolate for a minimum of 10 days after first experiencing symptoms of COVID-19. But a patient must stay in isolation past those 10 days if they still have a fever. They can only leave isolation 24-hours after the fever goes away and their other symptoms have improved.
The department is also asking people to start the contact tracing process themselves instead of waiting for public health workers.
“That means reaching out to your close contacts you may have exposed to the virus two days before you got any symptoms, or two days before you got your test,” said Bogen.
A close contact is someone who was within six feet of a contagious person for at least 15 minutes, with or without a mask. Bogen says people should tell their close contacts to get tested and quarantine for 14 days.
In attempt to reach all new cases, investigators are also reportedly conducting shorter interviews. Now people will be informed of isolation procedures, and then directed to an online form to complete the investigation. That includes disclosing close contacts.
“This has enabled our team to reach more cases faster,” said Bogen.
Bogen didn’t say what percentage of the forms are completed.