Arizona is actively working on several components to ensure the health of our communities as we gradually begin allowing services to resume in our state. One of public health’s core preparedness responsibilities is the ability to trace contacts of individuals who test positive for COVID-19. By increasing testing capacity to identify new cases and having a robust contact tracing plan, we can work to contain future cases of COVID-19 in our communities. Since the release of the White House’s Opening Up America Again, Arizona has been working to increase our contact tracing capacity.
Contact tracing is an essential element of public health and is used for the control of many communicable diseases, including measles, mumps, rubella, foodborne illnesses, and sexually transmitted infections. Experts at our public health departments in Arizona have been doing contact investigations for decades. When a case of a communicable disease is identified, public health investigators will call the patient, find out how they are doing, and ask a history of where they have been and who they were with while they may have been infectious. Sometimes, it takes a bit to earn the trust of the individuals we are calling.
Once public health identifies a person who may have been exposed, contact tracers reach out to that person to give instructions on what symptoms to look for, steps to take if they develop symptoms, and how to prevent the spread of the disease to others. They will then check in with that person, sometimes daily, to see if symptoms have developed, ensure they are complying with any directions for quarantine, and provide treatment, if necessary. This process is repeated for every contact, and potentially that contact’s contacts if they develop the disease. Contact tracing is an extensive process that takes a lot of resources.
Local health departments have been working to increase staffing resources to meet the challenge of contact tracing for COVID-19, ADHS has been working to develop a multi-pronged approach for a statewide contact tracing process. This approach is scalable to support our partners’ different jurisdictional needs and different levels of community spread of COVID-19 and will be adapted based on the preferences and resources of each jurisdiction.
To support our local health departments, the state is implementing a secure, automatic 14-day symptom monitoring and reporting system that allows contacts to report symptoms to public health daily through their preferred reporting mechanism. This can be by phone, through texting, or online. This will allow our health departments to work efficiently to collect this information. ADHS has also been working to augment our contact tracing workforce through several mechanisms: training state employees, working with our statewide university partners to utilize faculty, staff, and students from different concentrations (including public health, medicine, nursing, and social work, to name a few), partnering with the CDC Foundation for recruitment, and onboarding new employees to staff up to 40 teams of public health investigators that can be deployed statewide. This will augment our local health departments’ efforts.
As we expand testing and contact tracing, we expect to find additional cases. In order to reduce transmission in our communities, we urge everyone to follow Governor Ducey’s Stay Home, Stay Healthy, Stay Connected order and stay physically distanced while also taking recommended prevention measures — wash your hands, avoid touching your face, stay home if you are unwell, and consider wearing a cloth face covering when you cannot appropriately physically distance. For the latest information about the Arizona response to COVID-19, please visit our website.