Health officials announce plans to boost COVID-19 contact tracing

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virusHealth officials this week announced plans to hire hundreds of contact tracers to map the spread of COVID-19 throughout the state as hotels and businesses reopen and the economy starts up again.

Nevada currently has about 100 paid and volunteer staff tracking cases of the virus and have responded to almost 6,000 cases to date. The state plans to increasing contact tracers by 600 “almost immediately,” officials said Wednesday.

“I want to assure you this is something public health does,” said Julia Peek, Deputy Director of the Nevada Division of Public and Behavioral Health. “We’ve been doing contact tracing for sexually transmitted diseases, tuberculosis … for as long as public health has been in place.” 

Officials believe the number of cases traced to increase by almost fivefold in the next several months.

Peek said the state will hire Nevadans as contact tracers. The state will bring on contact tracers from local health districts in Clark County, Washoe County and Carson City as well as the newly formed Battle Born Medical Corps, the Nevada National Guard, and a private vendor.

Nevada is also assessing the use of phone-based apps to assist in contact tracing efforts.

Officials warned the key to maintaining an open economy as Nevada loosens social distancing restrictions is building up state capability to effectively respond to spikes or outbreaks of COVID-19 transmission.

“What we want is a high capacity to test on a daily basis as we reopen because we don’t know what’s going to happen and we want to be able to squash outbreaks quickly,” said Dr. Mark Pandori, director of the Nevada Public Health Laboratory and the State’s Chief of Testing.

The plan set by the governor’s office establishes a goal to perform COVID-19 diagnostic testing on 2 percent of the state’s population each month — that’s about 60,000 tests — for at least a year.

So far the state has met that objective. For the month of May, the Department of Health and Human Services reported that over 100,000 tests were performed, beating the 2 percent target. 

Capacity to run laboratory tests in the state is at about 6,000 tests a day on average, said Pandori. Within four weeks the Nevada State Public Health Laboratory plans to expand testing capacity to about 7,000 per day.

Every positive test will be contacted by a contact tracer within 24 hours, said Peek. Additionally, contact tracers will reach out to those identified as potential COVID-19 patients within 24 hours.

The state estimates the two year contract tracking operation will cost about $128.8 million, including contracts with venders Deloitte to provide more than 250 contact tracers and Salesforce to “modernize and streamline” the contact tracing process.

In total, the state’s plan is expected to cost $221 million and will be funded mostly through the CARES Act, the Epidemiology and Laboratory Capacity grant funds from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and a 70 percent reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Public Assistance Program.

Health officials also said the state is preparing to vaccinate 80 percent of the population once a COVID-19 vaccine becomes available.

Jeniffer Solis
Reporter | Jeniffer was born and raised in Las Vegas, Nevada where she attended the University of Nevada, Las Vegas before graduating in 2017 with a B.A in Journalism and Media Studies. While at UNLV she was a senior staff writer for the student newspaper, the UNLV Scarlet and Gray Free Press, and a news reporter for KUNV 91.5 FM, covering everything from the Route 91 shooting to UNLV housing. She has also contributed to the UNLV News Center and worked as a production engineer for several KUNV broadcasts before joining the Nevada Current. She’s an Aries.