City details contact tracing, warns of COVID-19 second wave

Posted 8/3/20

Contact tracing_FB by Kate Dolan Last week, Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley shared the process and status of contact tracing efforts and announced that “the second wave of the epidemic has …

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City details contact tracing, warns of COVID-19 second wave

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Contact tracing_FB

by Kate Dolan

Last week, Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley shared the process and status of contact tracing efforts and announced that “the second wave of the epidemic has now reached Philadelphia,” as COVID-19 daily cases increase in the Philadelphia region.

The city reached 141 confirmed cases on Friday, July 30 bringing the total to 30,354 cases since the beginning of the epidemic. Pennsylvania, the city’s collar counties — Bucks, Montgomery, Chester and Delaware — and Camden, NJ all saw daily case increases.

“The increase is partly related to increase in testing,” Farley said. “We’ve tested more than 3,100 people per day in the past week, that’s up from 2,100 per day two weeks earlier. But still, there’s no denying that there’s a significantly increased trend in cases across the city.”

The positivity rate is staying around 5.2%, and people under the age of 40 make up 57% of those testing positive for COVID-`19. Hospitalizations remain low compared to the virus’ peak in April, with 158 people hospitalized in Philadelphia and 290 in the region.

Farley also addressed COVID-19 nationwide.

“In the nation as a whole, in the US, the epidemic looks like it might be just starting to decline,” said Farley. “Daily case counts in particular are now clearly falling in the states that were the earliest states in the second epidemic wave, specifically Arizona and Texas and Florida.”

Farley said those states were still seeing many cases a day but said “the downward trend is a good thing.

“I’m hopeful that that downward trend will go north in the same way the increase in the trend in the past came north and affected us,” he said.

The Philadelphia Department of Health has formed a new division for contact tracing, hiring 108 new case interviewers, contact tracers and supervisors. Farley outlined how the process of contact tracing can help reduce spread of the virus.

Once the name and phone number are acquired of a patient who has tested positive, the patient is asked to isolate and is interviewed via phone to learn about where the person has traveled and with whom they’ve been in contact. Those contacts are then called and asked to quarantine for 14 days, monitoring for symptoms and responding to daily text messages from contact tracers.

The above is the ideal scenario, but Farley acknowledged that this is not always the case. Phone numbers may not be available and people are not always willing to offer information to the contact tracers. Farley said the process involves ample communication and requires voluntary cooperation and trust. The recent round of hiring sought people with “strong interpersonal skills and the sort of people you would trust“ who reflect the city’s racial and ethnic diversity.

“We’ve hired a very diverse group of people to do this work,” said Farley. “Of the people we’ve hired so far, the most updated numbers: 57% are African American, 25% White 6% are Latino, 11 % are Asian.” Sixteen percent were born outside of the United States and 35% speak a language other than english.

Contact tracing in Philadelphia has so far revealed that 27% of cases interviewed traveled out of state and the most common destination was the Jersey Shore. Forty-eight percent know that they’ve been exposed and of those, 36% reported that this exposure was to a household member, and 18% reported that it was typically a relative.

Dr. Farley reiterated the recommendation to not travel to the beach, saying that it’s not swimming in the ocean that poses the risk but activities common in shore trips, like shared car rides and social gatherings.

Secondly, he emphasized that people should avoid social gatherings of any size, and to wear a mask, even with relatives.

“Your relatives are no less likely to have an infection than strangers,”Farley said. “You should assume that anybody that you’re around has the infection, and then assume that you have the infection, and act accordingly.”

Announcements also made at last week’s press conferences include the opening of the city’s free PHLpreK program in the fall, with more than 130 locations around the city opening for in-person instruction and daycare. All facilities will be following protocols from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and the Philadelphia Health Department. More information can be found at PHLpreK.org.

A date for the return of indoor dining to the city has not been set and a possible resumption date was moved from August 1 to September 1, but Dr. Farley reiterated that indoor dining will only be allowed if certain requirements are met, like significantly falling daily case counts.

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