17848 DOH Testing Lab

Pennsylvania Commonwealth microbiologist Kerry Pollard performs a manual extraction of the coronavirus inside the extraction lab at the Pennsylvania Department of Health Bureau of Laboratories on Friday, March 6, 2020.

Pennsylvania’s director of testing and contact tracing, Michael Huff, on Wednesday said the state is in a “dangerous” stage of the pandemic, with COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations climbing sharply.

The Pennsylvania Department of Health on Wednesday reported a record 6,339 additional infections in a single day, with 250 of them in Lancaster County.

“Understand that we have an incredible spike in cases,” said Huff, who gave the media a program update. “We have not flattened this. This is a very dangerous time.”

Although some county health departments are reporting difficulty keeping up with the increased number of contacts, Huff said that the state’s investigators have no intention of acquiescing to the disease.

Here are five things to know about the contact tracing effort in Pennsylvania:

1. Identifying COVID contacts is considered critical to protecting communities from further viral spread. Communities unable to identify and isolate patients risk the virus running rampant.

2. Pennsylvania has more than 1,600 contact tracers, who identify and interview COVID-19 patients, to better inform health officials about how and where the virus in spreading.

3. The portion of Pennsylvanians cooperating with case investigations has been declining for months. For example, in the week of Aug. 16, some 46% of people answered case investigators’ questions about the businesses and gatherings they had visited in the 14 days before the onset of their symptoms. For the week of Oct. 25, just 21% did so.

4. With cases surging across Pennsylvania, investigators are able to quickly start contact tracing on a smaller percentage of cases. The week beginning Nov. 1 saw 20,985 cases, of which 25% had investigations begun within 24 hours. In the previous week, investigations were begun on 29% of cases were within 24 hours.

5. The state health department is also relying on Pennsylvanians to download the COVID Alert PA app, which alerts users via Bluetooth technology when they have come into close contact with someone infected with COVID-19. To date, more than 500,000 Pennsylvanians have downloaded the free app, which is available on the Google Play Store and the Apple App Store by searching “COVID Alert PA.” Health officials hope to push that number to more than 1 million.