NewsPolk County


Fla. Department of Health in Polk County admits investigators are behind in contact tracing

Posted at 5:54 PM, Jul 07, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-08 04:44:28-04

BARTOW, Fla. — The Florida Department of Health in Polk County admits it’s behind in contacting people who have come in contact with COVID-19 patients.

On Tuesday, Dr. Joy Jackson said her teams are doing everything in their power to keep up, including doubling its staff to investigate cases.

In recent weeks, the number of investigators went from 30 to 60 contact tracers to cover the surge of coronavirus case numbers.

This week, Dr. Jackson says they've hired another nine nurses to join other staff comprised of all kinds of backgrounds.

“Our individuals that are doing case investigation and contact tracing are a combination of our own staff that we have repurposed from other programs like school health, like our clinical and dental staff, a lot of our clerical support,”

ABC Action News asked Dr. Jackson how far the county was behind in making contact but she could not answer, only saying caseworkers are trying to make contact with at least 8-10 people who have tested positive a day.

The Florida Department of Health in Polk County currently has four teams of case investigators and contact tracers. Jackson is hoping to add another team soon.

Each staff member is responsible for making contact with the patient, their employers, and anyone they have been in contact with prior to presenting symptoms.

This means those testing positive have to remember where they were and who they were around at least two days before getting sick.

Depending on how far the county is behind on contact tracing, it’s possible patients may not remember that far back.

“Getting all of the phone numbers and getting people to answer the call is sometimes a challenge. And we will reach out at least three times to reach people. I won’t say it’s impossible but sometimes it’s challenging.

Dr. Peter Hortez, the dean of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, told Anderson Cooper in an interview that it’s no longer possible to keep track of everyone who has COVID-19 and who’ve they been in close contact with.

“The cases are rising so rapidly that we cannot even do contact training anymore I don’t even see how it’s possible to do that,” Dr. Hortez said.

In Polk County, cases are up to 5,665 with 115 deaths. Statewide, Florida has surpassed 213,000 cases with nearly 4,000 deaths.

ABC Action News asked the Director of Health if she believes the state reacted too late. Jackson responded by saying the government is now in reactive mode day-to-day and that the community spread needs to be slowed using CDC guidelines by social distancing, using sanitizers and wearing masks.

“The best thing we can do is reduce exposure which reduces disease transmission and slows transmission,” Dr. Jackson said.

Contact tracing jobs are in high demand. We found the Florida Department of Health is hiring contact tracers here.

You can also find recruiters are hiring tracers and investigators online. Some recruiters are even hiring for different states allowing employees to work and contact trace from home.