Contact tracing: Medical detectives like Haggerty could help open economy


PITTSBURGH BUSINESS TIMES – While high COVID-19 infection numbers have made state-level contact tracing impossible, Allegheny County has managed maintain the process by bringing in Pitt health science students and faculty to assist, including EPI’s Catherine Haggerty.

“We identify potentially exposed persons within the community so that we can put a quarantine in place and really reduce community spread,” said Haggerty. “It’s a critically important piece of what is needed to control the COVID-19 pandemic. I think that’s played a role in the success of managing and combatting COVID-19” in our region.

It’s not an easy process. The county has ramped up contact tracing with the explosion of COVID-19 cases, which has led to 55 deaths, 180 hospitalizations and 1,042 cases in Allegheny County alone since mid-March.

The case investigation team contacts every individual who has received a positive test for the disease. The interviewers collect clinical details, risk factors, and data on close contacts. That’s key because the way that COVID-19 is spread makes it critical to identify and isolate the people who may have been exposed but don’t know it yet. Those people are then contacted and asked to self-isolate.

“You become disease detectives, in a way. It takes some hunting down and some continued work and persistence. But for the most part, I would say that we are able to ultimately get in touch with a majority of people,” Haggerty said.

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