Pima County to accelerate contact tracing in coming weeks

Pima County to accelerate contact tracing in coming weeks

TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - Health experts continue to stress how important contact tracing could be to slowing the spread of COVID-19.

In Pima County, the health department’s top official said there will be an ‘accelerate’ push in the coming weeks.

Dr. Theresa Cullen said the department plans to award a contract to a company to handle contact tracing early next week, possibly as early as Monday. That company, working with the department staff, will be in charge of hiring and training tracers. Dr. Cullen said she would expect the company could start the effort in seven days.

“We now believe, because the steep increase in the number of cases, we will need to ask the contractor to hire more contact tracers than we originally intended,” said Dr. Cullen.

There have been about two dozen contact tracers working within the county as the coronavirus spread. Dr. Cullen said she now expects the number of tracers needed will be range from 300 to 400, due to the increase in positive cases.

“What we find is the vast majority of cases tell us they have very few contacts,” said Dr. Cullen. “We actually don’t really think that’s accurate, but we go with what they tell us.”

A ‘close contact’ is someone who spent more than 15 minutes with a confirmed case, without a mask on and without social distancing.

“Some cases, I think have been reluctant to share information because they’re worried. ‘Oh, all my friends will know now I’m sick,‘” said Dr. Cullen.

Patient information is not released by the contact tracers, only that it is believed the person may have come in close contact with a confirmed case.

Johns Hopkins offers a free, six-hour Coursera class developed by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. The course is now available online to train contact tracers about how to do this work effectively and help cities and states across the nation undertake these critical efforts.

Dr. Cullen said she believes training will be based on the instruction in the course.

Many KOLD News 13 viewers commented on the above tweet about contact tracing and said they don’t pick up the calls form phone numbers that they don’t know or that may show up as ‘unknown.’

Dr. Cullen said the department plans to generate a phone number that will be used for all county contact tracing efforts. The number may appear as the ‘Pima County Health Department’ or something similar.

The department is expected to release more information on the contract, hiring and training next week.

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