Maryland’s contact tracing operation for coronavirus cases will be fully operational in the entire state starting next week, Gov. Larry Hogan said on Thursday.
“To support our local health officials, the state has built a robust contact tracing operation and massively expanded Maryland’s disease investigation capacity,” Hogan said in a statement. “This will be a partnership across all 24 jurisdictions, and an all-hands-on-deck effort to ensure health officials on the ground can trace and isolate the virus.”
Deputy Health Secretary Fran Phillips echoed similar sentiments.
“This is a way everyone can contribute to keeping each other safe and healthy while helping us find and fight the virus,” Phillips said in a statement. “Participating with the state’s contact tracing program helps keep you, your family, your neighbors, co-workers, and community safe from this disease.”
More than 1,400 case investigators will be available to assist local health departments in tracking case histories, according to a press release from the governor’s office. The state only had 250 case investigators at the start of the pandemic. The substantial increase in case investigators was made possible due to the state’s contract with the National Opinion Research Center (NORC) to hire and train new investigators. NORC is an independent, non-partisan research institute and is part of the University of Chicago. The Center has a satellite office in Bethesda.
The additional manpower will give local health departments the ability to track 1,000 cases and 10,000 contacts on a daily basis, Hogan said. Case investors will contact individuals who test positive for the virus within 24 hours of diagnosis. They will then conduct a trace investigation to find who the infected person has been in contact with. Depending on the infected person’s symptoms and contact history other persons may be contacted as part of the investigation and guidance aimed at limiting the spread of the virus will be provided.
The process will be carried out through a state-of-the-art data management platform that was developed by the state’s Department of Information Technology and the Department of Health. The platform has been tested in assisting contracting tracing operations in Baltimore City and Prince George’s and Anne Arundel counties. The platform, according to the press release, has the ability to:
- Customize interview questions, call flows, and interviewer screens
- Determine call timeframes, escalation points, and follow-ups
- Manipulate real-time data and view detailed metrics
- Integrate with Google API, AWS, and call center platforms
- Digitally intake contacts, support self-reporting, and customize forms
All incoming calls will appear as “MD COVID” on the caller ID screen. Once the caller’s identity is verified the contact investigator will inquire about the person’s health, symptoms and who they have been in contact with. They will then provide instructions on what precautions the person should take to limit the spread of the virus. The names of infected persons learned during the investigation will not be shared pursuant to privacy regulations and guidelines.
News of the operational status of the statewide contact tracing operation comes less than a week after Hogan lifted the state’s stay-at-home order. However, some jurisdictions have decided to maintain the stay-at-home order and not reopen businesses. Other jurisdictions have decided to either fully implement Phase I of the governor’s reopening plan or to take a modified approach to the plan.
Formation of a robust contact tracing operation is one of the four criteria Hogan laid out as a precondition for reopening the state.
As of Thursday there are 43,531 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Maryland, according to the state’s Department of Health, and 2,045 people in Maryland have died from the virus.
In Congress several bills have been introduced to ensure that information obtained from contact tracing apps remains private.
by Bryan Renbaum