What to expect from COVID-19 contact tracing in Maricopa County

This illustration provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV), which causes COVID-19. Public domain image.

Maricopa County is looking to expand its capacity to do COVID-19 contact tracing by increasing its staff from 25 public health officials to as many as 250. 

In a press conference Thursday, Dr. Rebecca Sunenshine, medical director for the county’s public health department, explained that county public health officials contact every single person who has tested positive for COVID-19 to start a “case investigation” and establish a network of people and places where they could’ve spread the novel coronavirus.  

Investigators, she said, ask people who they live with and the healthcare workers who saw and treated them for symptoms — the groups of people at highest risk of exposure. Then, health officials ask about community contacts, and they consider those who spent at least 10 minutes within six feet of the person to be at risk of exposure. The timeline for exposure, Sunenshine said, starts two days before the person started noticing COVID-19 symptoms. 

Public health officials mainly conduct contact tracing investigations telephonically, said Fields Mosley, a spokesman for the county. 

As of Friday, Maricopa County has 3,123 confirmed positive cases of COVID-19, an increase of 160 over the day before. 

As the number of contact tracing staff expands, so will the need for personal protective equipment, which is in short supply, said Sunenshine.

Robert Rowley, Emergency Management Director for Maricopa County, said Thursday the county’s supply of surgical gowns is “down to just a few days.” The county has N95 respirators and face shields to last between two to three weeks, he said, and a four to five week supply of gloves and surgical masks.  

The county distributes these supplies by request to only healthcare centers that have COVID-19 cases, Rowley said, prioritizing long-term care facilities. 

How you can tell if you might be ill

Symptoms of COVID-19 resemble that of the flu. So, if you’re experiencing coughing, fever, difficulty breathing, or shortness of breath, you should consider getting checked out. Call your primary care physician or visit an urgent care center or emergency room — but call the health care provider before you go so they can be prepared for your arrival. The Arizona Poison and Drug Information Center is taking COVID-19 calls: 1-844-542-8201

How COVID-19 spreads

  • Through the air by coughing or sneezing
  • Close personal contact, such as touching or shaking hands
  • Touching an object or surface with the virus on it

How to prevent spreading COVID-19

  • Cover coughs or sneezes with your elbow. Don’t use your hands.
  • Wash hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available.
  • Clean surfaces frequently, including counter tops, light switches, cell phones, remotes, and other frequently touched items.
  • Contain: If you are sick, stay home until you are feeling better. Once symptoms are gone experts recommend staying home an additional 72 hours.