Jefferson County works to expand contact tracing

Local News

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — Keeping track of people diagnosed with coronavirus as well as who they have been in contact with is a key role in eliminating the virus.

UAB and the Jefferson County Health Department are both using money and manpower to help trace COVID-19 in efforts of helping slow the spread of the virus.

 “Contact tracing is a method that public health has been using for many years,” said Dr. David Hicks with the Jefferson County Department of Health.

Contact tracing allows specialized investigators to identify anyone who has been infected with certain illnesses. They then track them down to see who else may be affected. Contact tracing is being used even more now nationwide with the rising cases of coronavirus, including JCDH.

“We have reassigned a large portion of our health department staff, over 430 employees, and we’ve taken individuals who haven’t traditionally been assigned to contact tracing disease investigation and we retrained some of our staff,” said Hicks.

The health department has received no additional funding to help them in their efforts to combat COVID-19.

“Right now what we’ve done we’ve jumped in an offered our own financial resources that we have in reserve until other federal funding comes through. The financial resources we have is not going to be enough because this is something we are going to be in the long haul for several months if not longer,” said Hicks.

UAB Computer Science Professor Nitesh Saxena says another alternative for contact tracing can be done through an automated format.

“What you do is make use of people’s cell phones and you running an app. If you were close to someone within the Bluetooth range one person becomes infected at a later point in time they will have a record of all the people that came in contact with the infected person,” said Hicks.

Saxena adds scientists are building prototypes to help improve accuracy of the apps.

“You actually may have someone close to you but maybe they are separated by a barrier or something like that so it would still be alerted while they are not probably in contact with you,” said Saxena.

Right now, contact tracing in an automated format is getting tested in many countries overseas. Apple and Google apps should be available to the public by mid-May.


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