Maricopa County Health Department Ramping Up COVID-19 Contact Tracing

By Steve Goldstein, Lauren Gilger, Rocio Hernandez
Published: Wednesday, May 13, 2020 - 5:48pm
Updated: Thursday, May 14, 2020 - 2:28pm
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Maricopa County
Dr. Rebecca Sunenshine at a press conference on April 8, 2020.

The Maricopa County Public Health Department is ramping up its staffing and partnerships to reach more people infected with COVID-19 and their close contacts.

Marcy Flanagan, executive director, said hiring more epidemiology investigators and contact tracers is especially important as testing has increased in the state. 

“It is our goal to ensure that by July 1, public health has the capacity to contact 400 to 500 hundred cases a day. We will be doing this seven days a week," she said.

That’s almost four times the number of cases the department is currently handling per day, she added.

After the pandemic began, Flanagan said the department reorganized its epidemiology team and had 25 investigators running a seven-day operation. 

The county is now looking to hire 33 new investigators, 11 nurse epidemiologists and four data analysts. Flanagan said the county is speeding up the hiring process for these positions. Fourteen new investigators began training this week and may start helping with case investigations as early as three days after hire. 

Investigators interview people who have tested positive and identify who else may have been exposed, including everyone in their household. Those close contacts are then alerted to the possibility that they, too, may have been exposed. 

Flanagan said the county had depended on the positive cases themselves to make many of those contacts.

“This means, our epidemiologists were asking positive cases to inform their close contacts and household contacts that they may have been exposed," Flanagan said. "We provided written guidelines for those individuals on what they needed to watch for symptoms and how to stay safe.”

The county’s Dr. Rebecca Sunenshine clarified they do not have the ability to physically track people’s movements. For example, to determine whether someone continued going to work after testing positive. But in some cases, she said, investigators may notify people outside of their homes. 

The department and county will evaluate if it needs to hire more staff after July. 

The department’s partners, 211 Arizona and the Banner Poison and Drug Information Center, are also assisting in the efforts by providing social service support and referrals to coronavirus patients and their contacts and answering medical questions. 

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