BRANFORD, Conn. (WTNH) — Governor Ned Lamont says contact-tracing for coronavirus patients needs to be in place before the state can reopen.
The “track and trace” program put in place in Connecticut depends heavily on local health departments who already have the expertise and know-how to help.
While the state remains in the early process of planning, local health departments are gearing up. They’re adding staff and equipment.
“Contact tracing is what local health departments do,” said Michael Pascucilla, Director of the East Shore District Health Department.
Still, tracing on the level called for by coronavirus pandemic is new. The district is putting in new phones, wiring, and ordering computers as it transforms its conference room into a war room in the fight against COVID-19.
“I personally reached out to Southern Connecticut State University, and their Masters of Public Health Program, along with their nursing program, have agreed to help,” said Pascucilla.
Those students will join the ranks of the 400 to 500 volunteers the state says it will need. East Shore says it’s bringing on retired nurses from the state Medical Reserve Corps, and they’ve already hired new staff.
“They want to give to their community,” said Nurse Supervisor Rita Foster, “A lot of people want to help right now.”
In Milford, Health Director Deepa Joseph says school nurses already make up the backbone of her department’s tracing efforts.
“Our nurses are making those phone calls and doing the interviews, really sort of paper and pen,” said Joseph.
More manpower will help, and so too will the Microsoft software the state says it plans to use to text and email people who have been exposed, said Joseph. People who are found to have been exposed will be asked to voluntarily self-quarantine for two weeks to stop the spread.
“We’re here to do our best and protect our residents,” she said.
Foster said contact tracing depends on widespread testing. But national shortages for swab kits and reagents still present barriers.
“Our three towns want to do more testing but lack of supplies is holding them back. Once we can do more of that, we can find the cases that are current and then follow up with them,” said Foster.
“This is our community,” added Pascucilla.
The state’s program is expected to be fully up-and-running by mid to late May. Officials are also hoping to widely expand testing by then as well.