PHOENIX (May 13, 2020)—Maricopa County Department of Public Health (MCDPH) has launched a massive scaling-up of its ongoing communicable disease investigation and contact tracing program to address the increased number of cases resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic and increased testing.
Normally, MCDPH has a standing team of 16 epidemiologist investigators who investigate infectious diseases, like mumps or pertussis, and conduct contact tracing efforts for those cases. As the number of COVID-19 cases increased in Maricopa County, the amount of work increased as well. After reassigning qualified internal staff to investigation to create a team of 25 working seven days a week, MCDPH is now implementing a plan that has already offered positions to 33 individuals, began onboarding 14 new staff this week, brought on partners to conduct contact tracing, and can be scaled up or down as needed.
“Thanks to a huge effort from multiple parts of Maricopa County government, we have been able to condense a hiring process from an average of 45 days to 10 days to respond our community’s needs,” said Marcy Flanagan, executive director of MCDPH. “Our goal with this plan is to ensure that by July 1, Public Health has the capacity to contact 400-500 cases per day, seven days a week.”
When an individual tests positive for COVID-19, MCDPH is notified of that test result and opens an investigation. Trained epidemiology investigators reach out to cases and conduct a thorough interview, which uncovers all the places and people the case was in contact with starting from 48 hours before their symptoms started. This can include household contacts, workplaces, and other close contacts. The investigator then provides the case with detailed instructions for infection control for themselves and their household, managing their health, and when to seek additional care. They will also be asked to enroll in a secure electronic system to track their symptoms for at least 10 days after symptoms started so Public Health can tell them when they no longer need to isolate.
“Starting as early as next week, once we receive confirmation of a positive diagnostic test, we will send cases a text message with a link to a survey that will collect their initial symptoms and provide tailored instructions to follow until they get a call from a Public Health investigator,” said Dr. Rebecca Sunenshine, medical director for disease control at MCDPH. “This will ensure that the case knows to remain isolated from others and help us to expedite the investigation.”
It’s important to note that MCDPH will not be asking personal health information or financial information through this survey. If someone receives a text asking for personal health information or financial information, people should not click any links and should not share their sensitive information.
AZ 2-1-1, a program of Crisis Response Network, will assist MCDPH by reaching out directly to all identified contacts of positive cases to notify them of their exposure, provide infection control guidelines, what symptoms to watch for and how to report them to Public Health. Crisis Response Network/2-1-1 will also connect those individuals with any social services they need. Banner Poison and Drug Information Center will work with 2-1-1 to provide a 24/7 hotline these contacts can use to get medical questions answered by trained medical professionals.
Individuals who are interested in applying for one of these positions are encouraged to visit https://www.maricopa.gov/5523/Find-Help-and-Get-Involved#tracing.