Coronavirus graph

This graph presented by Montgomery County commissioners analyzes how an initial person with coronavirus (red dot in center) had contacts with others in the county who then became presumptive positive for COVID-19 (other red dots).

NORRISTOWN — Montgomery County officials have begun contact tracing at a COVID-19 testing site in Norristown and a more widespread program could be in place as early as next week, according to officials.

“We have actually already started some contact tracing through our Norristown-based community testing site. Anyone tested at that site, we’re now able to do contact tracing,” county Commissioners’ Chairwoman Dr. Valerie Arkoosh said during a Wednesday news briefing.

Contact tracing programs are a major component of Gov. Tom Wolf’s plan to reopen counties and their economies across the state. Contact tracing involves identifying those with who an infected person has been in close contact so they can self-quarantine to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

The walk-up community-based testing site where contact tracing has begun is located on the parking lot of the Delaware Valley Community Health Norristown Regional Health Center, 1401 DeKalb St. The free testing is provided by appointment only from 11 a.m. until 1 p.m. Monday through Friday.

That site is open to Norristown residents and all established patients of the Delaware Valley Community Health Center regardless of where they reside. Those who wish to schedule an appointment for testing can register by calling 610-592-0680 beginning at 8:30 a.m. daily.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considers contact tracing an important disease control measure.

Montgomery County health officials conducted contact tracing in the early days of the pandemic in March when the first few cases of the virus were identified, but tracing was discontinued when community spread became evident and the number of positive cases surged.

Arkoosh said the county is moving forward with developing a more robust contact tracing program.

“We have hired part of the leadership team for our new contact tracing team and individuals are starting next week and we are also redeploying existing staff to that team,” said Arkoosh, who provided an update on Wednesday about the status of the program’s development.

“So, we are hoping that by next week that we will be able to test 50 people a day. That’s where we intend to start and then we intend to quickly ramp up from that to whatever is required,” Arkoosh added.

Officials previously said they intend to hire a senior a logistics manager, a field operations coordinator, a clinical coordinator and a data coordinator.

The team will work to implement the contact tracing program and will refine the plan as needed during the upcoming year, officials said, adding the plan will include partnering with local community organizations to complete contact tracing.

On Friday, Arkoosh said the county is partnering with four nonprofit organizations, ACLAMO, Family Services of Montgomery County, Visiting Nurses Association Community Services and Montgomery County OIC, which will "employ highly trained and skilled contact tracers to help stop the spread of COVID-19 in our community."

Arkoosh said the four organizations have "a long history of working with county residents of all ages, races and backgrounds." Each organization will have one supervisor and between five and 10 contact tracers.

"Long before COVID-19, these four organizations have been working with Montgomery County residents on the ground level. Their staffs are caring and compassionate professionals and they have extensive experience in working with county residents during difficult times," Arkoosh said.

"Through COVID-19 contact tracing they will not only help stop the spread of disease but will also ensure that those individuals and families who are impacted will get the support and services they need to stay safe and healthy," Arkoosh added. "These organizations are fully equipped to reach our many diverse communities throughout the county and they will play a vital role in our fight against COVID-19."

Arkoosh previously said the county will be working in conjunction with the Pennsylvania Department of Health which is implementing the alert and disease surveillance system statewide.

Those determined to have had close contact with a positive patient will be provided information to help them understand their risk of infection and guidance about what they should do to avoid potentially spreading the virus to others.

Wolf’s color-coded plan to reopen the state, which is being implemented in phases, suggests a number of things must be in place in counties. Officials consider a county’s hospitalization rates, the availability of personal protective equipment for hospital employees and ventilators and the availability of a robust testing and contact tracing program.

Without adequate testing and contact tracing, health officials believe it will be difficult to uncover infections and identify clusters before they lead to more widespread outbreaks.

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