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Hillsborough County to increase contact tracing staff

By The Numbers

HILLSBOROUGH CO., Fla (WFLA) – Members of the Hillsborough County Emergency Policy Group are planning to expand contact tracing in the county.

In a meeting Tuesday, Douglas Holt said there were currently 83 Department of Health staff members working on contact tracing in the county that claims responsibility for more than 17,500 cases of COVID-19.

That means that each contact tracer has handled an average of about 211 cases.

Using federal funds, Holt says the county wants to add 20 additional contact tracers by this weekend, and 20 more the weekend following, eventually having a total of 239 investigators and contact tracers by August 1.

But because of Hillsborough’s population of nearly 1.5 million, there should be at least 400 people working on contact tracing, according to Dr. Marissa Levine, an instructor at USF’s College of Public Health.

“Hillsborough is currently in widespread community transmission,” Levine said. “The recommendation at this stage in the game is to have about 30 contact tracers per 100,000 population. That puts, for Hillsborough County, you’re talking about over 400 individuals.”

Other local counties aren’t doing much better in terms of contact tracing.

Earlier this week WFLA learned that there are only 60 contact tracers in Polk County, working seven days a week to track where the more than 6,500 cases are traveling.

But this problem isn’t exclusive to the Tampa Bay area.

This week multiple Miami-Dade County mayors called for funding to employ more contact tracers in one of the state’s most infected areas.

“I encountered someone who is positive for COVID-19 and it was like it was a secret with him,” said  Miami Gardens Mayor Oliver Gilbert. “Contact tracing is the official name that the government gives it. What we call it out here in the community is understanding that you’ve been infected and telling the people that you’re sick. This isn’t something to be ashamed of.”

How does contact tracing work?

When someone tests positive for COVID-19, a public health casse investigator will contact that person to make a list of people they’ve come in contact during a specific time fram. The public health investigator then contacts those people, reminding them of precautions that need to be taken and finding out who they have been in contact with.

Previous studies of contact tracing has shown that it allows public health officials to prevent additional spread of the disease.

Gov. Ron DeSantis said earlier this week that “contact tracing is not going to be enough,” and urged residents to practice social distancing and avoid large gatherings.

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