As part of the Georgia’s efforts to reduce the spread of coronavirus and mitigate hotspots, the state will be expanding its contact tracing efforts. Contact tracing is used to identify and mitigate hotspots of infection to help prevent further spread of the virus.
The Georgia Department of Public Health is increasing its workforce to expand the efforts statewide.
Currently, about 250 contact tracers are deployed throughout the state. To date, more than 3,800 individuals testing positive for COVID-19 have been contacted and nearly 13,000 contacts identified.
In partnership with the CDC Foundation, a deployment coordinator and a training and learning coordinator have joined the department’s COVID-19 response team. Together these individuals will oversee the training and deployment of hundreds of contact tracers being hired by the department. They will work closely with the 18 public health districts to ensure operational issues and staffing needs are addressed, and that performance metrics established by DPH and district leadership are met.
The department’s goal is to have over 1,000 contact tracers within weeks to strengthen its contact tracing efforts. Training is underway for 200 new contact tracers and 70 medical students and M.P.H. candidates who joined DPH in the past two weeks.
Along with the additional contact tracers, the department is introducing a new online monitoring tool developed by Google/MTX to make contact tracing more efficient. Once a COVID-19 case is identified, public health staff work with that individual to help them recall everyone they have had close contact with and where they went while they may have been infectious. Contacts identified during this interview will be called by trained DPH staff indicating that they have been exposed to COVID-19 and asking them to enroll in DPH symptom monitoring and informing them that they must self-quarantine for 14 days after the exposure.
The web-based portal allows identified contacts to easily answer questions about their health and their symptoms related to COVID-19. If the contact reports symptoms, the system will prompt the individual to call 911 if they are in a medical emergency or to consult with their healthcare provider if they are sick and need medical care. Individuals with mild symptoms who do not need medical care will then be provided information on how to schedule COVID-19 testing.
Contacts will receive a daily text message for 14 days reminding them to report if they have symptoms through the monitoring tool, and they will also receive information about what to do if they are or become sick. Individuals who do not report daily will be contacted by DPH. For people who do not wish to use the online system or receive texts, they can call DPH directly to report their symptoms.
Why it Matters: Contact tracing helps contain new outbreaks of the coronavirus and could prevent future shelter-in-place orders and shutdowns if residents participate. Since a person can be infected with COVID-19 for up to two weeks without knowing it, contacting potential asymptomatic carriers allows those who may have been infected to take steps such as self-quarantining and social distancing so that they do not spread the virus to others.
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp is asking all Georgians who are contacted by the Department of Public Health to cooperate with contact tracing. “If you are contacted by DPH staff, we strongly encourage you to participate in the contact tracing program,” Kemp said.
Confidentiality is critical to the success of contact tracing. Contact tracing in Georgia is 100% confidential — the identity of the person who tests positive and the information on those who might have been exposed will not be shared. Georgia’s contact tracing does not use GPS or Bluetooth technology to track movements. The monitoring tool does not collect any data other than what is entered by the contact.
For more information about COVID-19 visit https://dph.georgia.gov/novelcoronavirus or https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html.
As of 1 p.m. Tuesday, Georgia had 34,737 confirmed cases of coronavirus, 6,177 people have been hospitalized, 1,461 people have been admitted to ICU, and 1,465 people have died from the virus.
WILL YOU PARTICIPATE?: The idea of contact tracing is controversial to some Georgians. How do you feel about it? If contacted by the Department of Public Health, do you plan to participate? Share your opinion by clicking here.