TAMPA, Fla. - People across the Bay Area are back on the roads, at work, in stores, and at restaurants.
As Florida gets moving again, officials will be working to identify and prevent coronavirus hot spots before they become outbreaks.
The answer, they say, is contact tracing. Once a person tests positive, officials talk to the patient and track down anyone they have been near – and may also now be infected.
The Florida Department of Health - Hillsborough County, the University of South Florida, and the University of Tampa are all recruiting those willing to go out and do interviews.
"If we don't perform lots of contact tracing, along with the testing, we won't have enough information to know who has what, where and when, and it'll be too late, we will have a forest fire," USF Health’s Dr. Jay Wolfson said.
Florida would need as many as 10,000 people to do the time-consuming work, Wolfson said. The state has about 1,000 people on board, so far, though state officials are not being specific on how those contact tracers are being dispatched or if they've been successful at identifying hotspots.
Back on May 6, Florida Surgeon General Dr. Scott Rivkees said, "This is something we have in place, and we have been doing this from the very beginning and are continuing to expand."
Making the job tougher: the number of cases in Florida continues to rise.
"We trace that out, the better we get at that, the more we are able to close around that epidemic that is growing, seal it off, and make sure it doesn't continue to spread," Wolfson said.
As of this writing, almost 49,500 cases of COVID-19 had been reported in the state of Florida since the beginning of March and the number of new cases reported each week has been rising over the last four weeks.
Three weeks ago, the number of new cases reported was just over 4,000. The following week, the number of new cases was near 4,500. Last week, the number of new cases was just under 5,000. This week, the number of new cases was more than 5,300.
However, the number of tests being performed each week has gone up, as well. From mid-April through mid-May, the state reported about 100,000 tests a week, but in the last 6 days, the state reported more than 200,000 tests – signaling a significant uptick in testing efforts.
The more people tested, the more contact tracing will need to be done. The result, officials hope, will be fewer cases in the long-term, because those who know they have the virus can avoid giving it to others.
The state department of health says it now has 1,100 people employed as contact tracers – who are meeting the current demand for their work.
The Department of Health released the following statement:
Contact tracing is a vital component of any epidemiological investigations.
Typically, the Department employs approximately 500 full-time epidemiologists. FDOH hired 359 additional epidemiologists as temporary staff.
More than 1,100 individuals, including students, epidemiologists and other staff from across the Department, are currently involved in contact tracing every positive case of COVID-19 in Florida.
This is successfully meeting the current operational demand, which is reassessed daily as additional cases are confirmed through the state’s rapidly expanding testing capabilities. Similarly, the rate at which cases are traced varies as new cases are confirmed. These efforts are reflected in our state’s decreasing positivity rate.
The Department is prepared to further expand the number of contact tracers, if necessary, based on operational need.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Email responses will be sent during call center hours.
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