Tazewell, Va. – People and technology are being used in the Virginia Department of Health’s efforts to contain the coronavirus.
During a press conference last week officials with the health department outlined plans to speed up its efforts to combat the virus. The department plans to hire 1,300 people for boots on the ground operations.
The bulk of the jobs, (1,000), are contact tracers who will be tasked with finding everyone that a person diagnosed with the virus has been in contact with. Deputy Commissioner Mona Vector said the temporary jobs will be filled in all areas of the state on an as needed basis.
When someone tests positive for Coronavirus the contact tracer gets a list of everyone they came in contact with and determines their risk of exposure. The agency also plans to hire 200 case investigators as well as data analysts, coordinators and supervisors and also use high tech equipment
Marshall Vogt, epidemiologist, said the department has been doing contact tracing on infectious diseases such as tuberculosis, or sexually transmitted diseases for many years. He said they had 129 people statewide for the work prior to the coronavirus and using transfers from within the department and other state agencies upped the number to 470.
He said the tracers will establish a relationship and make sure they get care and testing if needed. “Our local health departments have done really well in contact tracing by transferring people from other areas and using volunteers,’ he said.
Vector said the department is in the process of obtaining an artificial intelligence device to allow people to be tested in the privacy of their home. The tool allows people to do some testing to see if they need further testing and or treatment.
She said they also plan to use a proximity tracking application as an option and a buoy tool which will be called covid checker. The department is currently offering community testing to help with contacts and people who are concerned they may have symptoms.
Vogt said the checkers will ask people to voluntarily quarantine or isolate if they are exposed to the virus but the state commissioner has the power to issue an enforceable order if they refuse to comply. He said that has been used in the past with local health departments, the commissioner and attorney general’s office.
Vector said the covid checker should be available this week and the proximity application to be operational in three weeks. She said privacy issues are a major concern and the aps will allow people to opt in or out and any data collected would be on a cloud based secured network.
She said the systems are either fee based or are already in place through the Centers for Disease Control. They will also be available through new tools google or apple have launched and on I or android phones.
The assistant commissioner said the state will do public service announcements to gain people’s trust in the systems and what they have to offer. Apple and google will also join in the campaign.
She said contact tracing had been focused on nursing homes, public safety and hospitals and other essential services due to manpower limits. Vogt said the program is now ramping up to cover everyone. Governor Ralph Northam made contact tracing a top priority and his office has appropriated $58 million to cover the cost.
That money comes from the $3.1 billion the state received from the federal government under the CARES act.
More information on the jobs and the state’s efforts to combat the virus may be found at www.vdh,virginia.gov.