ST. PETERSUBRG, Fla. - Imagine being given a list of 23 people and told that you need to track down and contact every person that each of those 23 people has come into contact with in the last two weeks. Time is of the essence because those contacts may have been exposed to COVID-19.
With nearly 50,000 newly confirmed cases of the coronavirus in Florida in the last seven days, that's the one-week caseload for each of the state's 2,200 contact tracers. And their caseload continues to grow.
According to the National Association of County and City Health Officials, during a pandemic, about 30 contact tracers are needed for every 100,000 people. The latest data show there are only eight states that meet the threshold.
In order for Florida to meet the same threshold, it would need to nearly triple its workforce to around 6,500 contact tracers.
"We're in a phase right now where there's a lot of community spread. It's really hard to keep up with all the new cases that are occurring," explained University of Florida professor Dr. Marrisa Levine. "But it's a totally voluntary system."
Even with a full staff of contact tracers, it's difficult, time-consuming work. Additionally, there's no requirement for people who are sick to cooperate.
While employees are encouraged to tell employers if they test positive, but they aren't legally required to.
They also are not required to notify anyone they may have exposed -- and neither are businesses.
Health departments are legally required to notify people of potential exposure, but they are only able to do so if the infected person cooperates and hands over a list of names and places to department officials.
"We've been very busy with our contact tracing. We haven't seen it slow down. It just continues to go," Florida Department of Health - Pinellas County public information officer Tom Iovino said. "Our goal since day one has been to try and figure out how many people that one patient may have been in contact with and get in touch with them to see if they're exhibiting any symptoms."
FOX 13 asked Pinellas County how much time goes by before someone who may have been exposed would get a call from the health department. Officials couldn't provide an exact time frame, but said they work as fast as possible to notify people. If someone doesn't answer, they say they will make multiple attempts to get in touch with them.
If you feel sick:
The Florida Department of Health has opened a COVID-19 Call Center at 1-866-779-6121. Agents will answer questions around the clock. Questions may also be emailed to email@example.com. Email responses will be sent during call center hours.
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