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Florida coronavirus: Are there enough contact tracers as cases spike?

Investigations

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Public health experts say contact tracing is critical to stopping the spread of coronavirus. But is enough being done in Florida?

8 On Your Side is investigating whether the Florida Department of Health is doing its job.

How does contact tracing work?

If you test positive for coronavirus, a public health expert will help you determine who you’ve potentially exposed.

Then they’ll contact each of those people and tell them to get tested.

Contract tracing in Florida

Back in May, Gov. Ron DeSantis touted Florida’s efforts when it came to contact tracing.

“The county health departments in conjunction with the Florida Department of Health have done a lot of contact tracing throughout this whole time period,” Gov. DeSantis said at a news conference on May 29.

As cases skyrocket, we wanted to know if there are enough contact tracers to notify you about any potential exposures.

Do we have enough contact tracers?

Florida says there are more than 1,600 people, including students, involved in contact tracing right now.

According to the DOH, if a person tests positive, the department conducts an extensive epidemiological investigation to identify individuals who may have been exposed to the virus.

Gene DellaSala says his family got the call after his diagnosis.

“They just went through a list of people that I was in contact with and they started calling them,” said DellaSala.

DellaSala is “patient zero” in Pasco: the first-known COVID-19 case in the entire county.

DellaSala and his family provided a complete list of contacts to DOH.

“Were people annoyed to get this call? Were they complianing?” asked investigative reporter Mahsa Saeidi.

“Some people were very annoyed actually, they were worried about their jobs,” said DellaSala. “I didn’t want to make a bad situation worse so I was happy to comply.”

If you tested positive for coronavirus, please let 8 On Your Side know if contact tracers have been in touch with you. You can send an email to investigator Mahsa Saeidi at MSaeidi@WFLA.com

Full statement from DOH Communications Director Alberto Moscoso:

“In Florida, the Department of Health and the 67 County Health Departments operate as an integrated public health system. This integration allows the Department to respond to potential public health threats using a coordinated and standardized approach, directing resources and personnel where they are most needed.

When the Department of Health receives notification that a person has tested positive for COVID-19, we conduct an extensive epidemiological investigation to identify individuals who may have been exposed to the virus.

Typically, the Department employs approximately 500 full-time epidemiologists. DOH hired 359 additional epidemiologists as temporary staff.

More than 1,600 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.

The Florida Department of Health has also engaged with MAXIMUS, a widely recognized company with previous experience in supporting governmental agencies, to hire an additional 400 contact tracers and 200 disease investigators.

These individuals will support the Department in conducting investigations and contact tracing. This initiative will supplement the state’s current contact tracing efforts.

The Department is continuously assessing the operational need to remain prepared to respond to any potential increase in cases.

Section 381.0031, Florida Statutes, gives the Department the statutory authority to conduct epidemiological investigations, which includes contact tracing.

Contact tracing is an important epidemiological process that considers direct contacts of the infectious individual and secondary and tertiary contacts who may have been exposed to the virus.

In addition to conducting a thorough investigation to determine any potential close contacts, the Department advises that contact tracers utilize and discuss the most up-to-date and current guidance from the CDC and provide individuals with relevant infographics and other educational material.

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Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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