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Local health departments using state-contracted COVID tracers

SHADYSIDE — The state is offering resources to help local health departments streamline the contact tracing process.

In recent weeks and with the apparent waning of the pandemic, the Belmont County Health Department has been utilizing the Public Consulting Group for contact tracing.

Belmont County Deputy Health Commissioner Robert Sproul texted his office turned over contact tracing operations to the company because the Ohio Department of Health was shifting focus to that data company in handling such operations.

“We’ve transitioned to having them do the contact tracing,” Linda Mehl, director of nursing with the health department, said.

Harrison County Health Department Administrator Garen Rhome said his office has made use of contact tracers provided by the state, but due to the decline in cases and sparse population the county has not needed to rely on them.

“For months, the Ohio Department of Health has offered various levels of support to support local contact tracing efforts,” Rhome said. “In the back half of 2020 and even in the last quarter of 2020, many local health departments…were getting a lot of cases, and maybe sometimes more than they can handle. Here in Harrison County, we always had a pretty good grip on keeping the tracing local.”

Rhome said the ODH hired numerous contact tracers in the beginning of 2020 and later contracted with PCG. He said use is at the local office’s discretion.

“A local health department could choose to utilize a little bit, some or all of the service offered by the Ohio Department of Health contact tracing services,” Rhome said. “They’ve helped us out toward the end…of 2020. … We’ve scaled up and we’ve scaled down. It’s very flexible.”

Rhome said many of his staff know the community and the people they are contacting.

“It’s just a testament to frankly the dedication of our nursing staff that we’ve been able to keep most of that contact tracing notification of the infected and their close contacts, we’ve been able to keep that very, very local,” he said.

He said when his office used them, the state’s contracted contact tracers had been dutiful in providing results to them.

“Any time you expand, if you bring more people in or another agency in there might be a little bit of concern for communications, but it wouldn’t be something we would not have access to their data,” Rhome said. “We could see that data.”

Jefferson County Health Department Hannah Piko, director of nursing, said her office has turned tracing over to PCG early in 2021.

“We had originally transferred it over to ODH, and ODH subcontracted it out,” Piko said. “We have contact with them daily. They keep us updated on the cases that they make contact with, and I make sure of all the cases that we receive here in house through the fax machine that they have them as well to make sure everyone gets made contact with. … For the most part (PCG) handles (tracing) fully.”

Piko said PCG provides her office with daily data.

“But a lot of that information as well we pull just directly from the ODH website, as far as our recoveries for the day and the number of new cases that are reported each day.”

According to coronavirus.ohio.gov, Belmont County has had a total of 6,141 cases since the pandemic’s onset, with 5,883 recoveries and 174 people have died after being infected.

Jefferson County has had 5,660 total cases, with 5,481 recoveries and 156 deaths associated with the virus.

Harrison County has had 1,135 total cases, with 1,070 recoveries and 37 people have died after being infected.

In Monroe County there has been a total of 1,357 cases, with 1,290 recoveries and 44 people have died after being infected.

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