Department of Health ramps up contact tracing, testing

Department of Health ramps up contact tracing, testing
(Source: NBC News)

RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - The Virginia Department of Health says contact tracing, testing and the focus on health disparities during the COVID-19 pandemic is increasing in the Commonwealth.

VDH is expanding its staff of case investigators and contact tracers from a few hundred to nearly 2,000.

There are currently 1,547 professionals working as contact tracers and case investigators. State Health Commissioner, Dr. Norman Oliver says a case investigator is a higher skilled job that requires thorough interviewing, interpreting lab results as well as more clinical discussion with patients. Those jobs are primarily held by nurses and doctors.

Dr. Oliver says so far, contact tracing has been successful in Virginia.

“As of July 27, VDH has 8,757 contacts who are under public health monitoring in our program, contact tracing is still valuable and this is an important point,” he explained.

Dr. Oliver says contact tracing remains valuable as there are issues with the turn around times for test results in the Commonwealth.

“Most delays are in the commercial labs, and they range from 7-10 days,” said Dr. Oliver. “The public laboratories are not experiencing such delays, our turn around time is between 24-72 hours.”

A testing advisory council has been established in the Commonwealth, the group is meant to closely monitor the capacity for testing. It is looking at ways to increase testing capacity and ways to eradicate the turn around time delay in test results.

Right now, Dr. Oliver says VDH is focusing on testing in underserved and vulnerable communities. Dr. Oliver says case rates are disproportionate in the African-American and Latino communities. As of July 29, VDH is reporting 38.8% of statewide cases are in the Latino community, and 23.2% of cases are within the African-American community.

VDH data from 7/29/20
VDH data from 7/29/20 (Source: VDH)

VDH has partnered with UVA for a study that is using COVID-19 antibody tests to get an estimate of the prevalence of COVID-19 in the Commonwealth. Dr. Oliver says 3,775 participants are in the study so far, and the goal is to have 5,000 people participate. Preliminary results show 2.4% of adult Virginians have COVID-19 antibodies.

“[The] big takeaway from this is the overwhelming majority, a very large portion of the population in the Commonwealth is still vulnerable to infection and we must continue to take precautionary measures,” said Oliver.

VDH is preparing to launch an exposure notification app through Google Apps called ‘COVID Wise,’ which will notify you if you may have been exposed to the virus.

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