ADPH ramping up contact tracing in COVID-19 outbreak

Updated: Apr. 14, 2020 at 6:46 PM CDT
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BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - The coronavirus is a relentless and reckless virus and its only purpose is to replicate.

“This is not rocket science,” said Dr. Michael Saag. Director, Center for AIDS Research, UAB. “This is simple biology of a virus that is in a population that is vulnerable.”

Dr. Saag is an infectious disease expert and a particular expert of COVID-19 after getting sick and recovering from the virus.

“If it can find a place where it can cause an infection, it’s doing to do it, it doesn’t care, unless that host has protection from prior immunity from a prior infection, or through a vaccine, that’s it.”

A vaccine is still several months off and with less than one percent of Alabama’s population infected, most are still susceptible to infection. That’s why Dr. Saag believes contact tracing is crucial to tracking and hopefully containing the spread of COVID-19.

“In Public Health, we are working very hard to add to our capacity to do this. We are shifting employees from other parts of the agency into roles where they can do contact tracing,” said Dr. Scott Harris, State Health Officer, Alabama Department of Public Health.

Dr. Harris said identifying and isolating those who have had contact with an infected person can help stop transmission. Its been used for decades to try to contain contagious diseases like Tuberculosis.

“We normally have a very small staff for doing this and at the moment, we’ve just about quadrupled the number of people and we plan to add a lot more as we can get them up and get them trained,” explained Dr. Harris.

Without contact tracing and other public health precautions in place before lifting the stay-at-home order, Dr. Saag is convinced there will be more cases of COVID-19.

“In my opinion,” said Dr. Saag, “There’s no question we hit a second spike.”

A spokesperson for ADPH said it has been conducting investigations on all confirmed cases since the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak. Prior to the outbreak, it had 20 employees working on communicable disease investigations.

“ADPH has pulled investigators from our TB Control, Immunization, HIV, and STD Divisions to help with investigations, as well as staff members from other public health Bureaus or Divisions within the health department, to respond,” said a department spokesperson in an email. “ADPH is also working with medical schools for some medical students to assist in this process.”

As of Wednesday, ADPH will have approximately 120 people working contact investigations or “related activities,” according to the spokesperson.

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