When Adams County opened into the green phase of the state’s COVID-19 plan on June 12, the change created the likelihood that cases would begin to rise again. The concern will be even greater when schools and colleges reopen next Month.
Governor Wolf has sounded warnings as COVID cases rise statewide, but Adams is currently holding its own in the fight against COVID.
Because people do not adequately protect themselves when they are with others, the highly contagious virus spreads among us.
But if our numbers stay low enough we can use techniques such as frequent testing and contact tracing to track the flow of the virus and isolate people who have it before they can infect others.
Contact tracing is the process by which public health officials identify people who may have passed the virus to an infected person. By tracing the contacts of infected people, testing them for infection, isolating or treating the infected and tracing their contacts in turn, public health service providers reduce infections in the general population.
“There is a clear recognition when you look at other countries that contact tracing and testing are elements for containing the spread of COVID,” said Dr. Matt Howie, a WellSpan family physician who also serves as medical director of the City of York Bureau of Health.
The bottom line, experts said, is the ability to reach all the contacts of a newly positive individual within 24 hours.
The tracers, who work individually with patients, create a list of “usual suspects,” said Howie. The tracer goes through the timeline of the patient’s symptoms, determines the date and duration of contact with others, and creates a list of people who should be contacted.
“It’s confidential. People are asked to monitor themselves and check in regularly,” said Howie. “People have been very cooperative in this space, as long as they understand the privacy and confidentiality”
Lindsey Mauldin, Special Assistant to Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine, also emphasizes the importance of confidentiality, saying that public health officials are very careful about maintaining privacy. “Confidentiality and privacy are tenants of our program. That information lives with the nurse,” said Mauldin.
Howie said contact tracing was already being used regularly across the state for other diseases and was being ramped up for COVID. As of July 23, 2020, the commonwealth has a total of 661 contact tracers, including 73 in the south central district that includes Adams County.
State district partnerships, such as the south central district, are made up of community business organizations, employers, federally qualified health centers, county human services organizations, foundations and health systems, and colleges and universities.
“Contact tracing is happening more aggressively than it has been,” Howie said. “But we need to do better, and we need the capacity that’s actively occurring across the state.
Howie said contact tracing works best when the people conducting the tracing are working in their own communities and understand the specifics of the region. According to Howie, it is important to have someone who “reflects the community” and has the local knowledge, interviewing skills, and medical information to interpret the answers accurately.
“Trust is an enormously important aspect because of the personal information,” Howie said. “You need to have the trust.”
“The good news is that we have the actual tools,” Howie said. “We need a workforce that can be trained.”
The Department of Health is hiring contact tracing field managers and community health nurses to strengthen contact tracing needs throughout the state. Contact tracing filed 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.
For more information, email [email protected]. I
Charles Stangor is Gettysburg News’s Publisher and Editor in Chief.
My name is Katherine, and I am a graduate student at the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism. I graduated from Fordham University at Lincoln Center in 2018 with a degree in history, and I was one of the news editors for the Observer, the college’s student-run newspaper. I love to learn about and cover different communities, and I am very excited to be interning for the Gettysburg News this summer and getting to know about all the work being done by the residents in the area.