Polk Co. coronavirus: 60 contact tracers working, health director says she needs more

Polk County

POLK COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – The head of the Florida Department of Health in Polk County says she needs more contact tracers as the county’s coronavirus cases climb.

“We’ll be looking to hire additional staff as we flex and expand based on the needs to perform what we need to do,” Dr. Joy Jackson said.

Dr. Jackson told 8 On Your Side there are now 60 contact tracers working in Polk County. There are tracers working seven days a week to contact people who tested positive for coronavirus.

Those conversations can last up to an hour.

“We want to know ultimately the individuals that they could have had close contact with starting at least two days before symptom onset,” said Dr. Jackson.

Tracers then reach out to those individuals so they can quarantine and/or get tested.

The tracing team is a combination of staff from the health department and the state.

“A couple of weeks ago we received about thirty other staff from the state and these are contracted staff that have been deployed to Polk to assist with these efforts,” said Dr. Jackson.

In Polk County, coronavirus cases doubled in the last two weeks, which creates a strain for contact tracers and, in turn, a backlog.

“We currently are striving for our case investigators to investigate eight to 10 cases per day,” said Dr. Jackson. “Our goal is to case investigate and contact trace within a day or two to the best of our availability.”

There are some reports across Florida of contact tracing moving slowly and some coronavirus patients not being contacted at all.

Gov. Ron DeSantis discussed contact tracing at a press conference Tuesday. He said when it comes to fighting the pandemic, “contact tracing is not going to be enough,” and urged residents to practice social distancing and avoid large gatherings.

“When you have a lot of these asymptomatic 20-year-olds, there is not a lot of contact tracing that’s being effective with them because they haven’t been as cooperative with doing it, and so there are limits to how much – if people aren’t going to cooperate – how much can be done,” DeSantis said.

Dr. Jackson told county commissioners Monday the staff was a “little behind” and working on new cases and backlogged cases.

It’s another challenge during a challenging time.

“I would say this is probably been the most intense experience I’ve ever been through,” said Dr. Jackson. “As far as day to day intensity and such a strong sense that we need to be there to support the community, I think this is unsurpassed.”

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