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2020 News

Additional Help to be Hired for Bucks COVID Contact Tracing, Case Investigation

August 13, 2020

Contact: James O’Malley, 215-348-6414, jtomalley@buckscounty.org

Reinforcements are on the way for the Bucks County Health Department’s industrious team of case investigators, thanks to the county’s latest distribution of federal COVID-19 relief funds.

The County Commissioners on Wednesday approved the Health Department’s request for a $885,000 contract with the Council of Spanish Speaking Organizations (“Concilio”), funded entirely by federal pandemic relief dollars, for the hiring of temporary staff to assist in COVID-19 case investigation. case investigators1

Since the pandemic’s onset, COVID-19 cases in Bucks County have been tracked by about a dozen Health Department employees, largely public health nurses working six and seven days a week to conduct case investigations, which includes contact tracing, in addition to their normal duties.

Out of roughly 6,900 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Bucks County, investigators at the Health Department have successfully made contact with more than 95 percent of infected people.

A new cohort of case investigators, call center staff and data managers will bolster the county’s long-term COVID-19 response, said Health Department Director Dr. David Damsker, and help keep his department’s staff from burning out. damsker mug

“It’s difficult to keep the fire lit when you’re working for six months straight without a break,” Damsker said. “Additional staff will help us as we continue managing the pandemic in Bucks County and allow us to plan for future initiatives, including the distribution of an eventual COVID-19 vaccine – all without continuing to neglect our regular duties.”

Concilio has been assisting the Philadelphia Department of Public Health with a similar hiring effort. Though the eight to 10 new hires will be brought on board by the Philadelphia-based agency, Damsker emphasized that staff will be trained in “the Bucks County way” of case investigation.

The Health Department’s case investigators are not simply contact tracers. They also work to figure out where patients catch the virus and what symptoms they are experiencing as well as their symptoms’ onset date. case investigators2

Robust case investigations are essential to maintaining low levels of coronavirus transmission in the community by tracking its spread and notifying those who may have come into contact with infected persons. Rates of community spread, or infection from an untraceable source, in Bucks County have so far remained manageable, due in no small part to the Health Department’s efforts.

In addition to the Concilio contract, the commissioners formally approved the allocation of $3.7 million in federal COVID-19 stimulus funds to Visit Bucks County for its effort to boost local businesses walloped by the downturn in tourism and travel resulting from the pandemic.

Paul Bencivengo, President and COO of Visit Bucks County, told the commissioners the funds will be aimed at shoring up the hospitality industry, which employs some 28,000 countywide.

“Like many industries, hospitality is just getting crushed, and we’re looking to use these dollars to be responsible marketers and keep these dollars regional,” he said.

Visitor spending generates an estimated $1 billion annually for the local economy.