TAMPA BAY — Experts say contact tracing is key to reopening states, especially when it comes to long term care facilities, where residents and staff make up nearly half of Florida’s coronavirus deaths.

What You Need To Know

  • In late April, state employed 500 contact tracers

  • Florida Department of Health says it has increased number of contact tracers in state to 1,100

  • Some Bay area counties not forthcoming with how many contact tracers they have

  • More coronavirus stories

“The long-term care testing and tracing is really to help prevent our most vulnerable population,” said Dr. Marissa Levine, Professor of Public Health and Family Medicine at USF. “The earlier we can get care to them, the better.”

Levine was the State Health Commissioner of Virginia from 2014 to 2018 before coming to USF, overseeing reaction there to H1N1, Ebola and the Zika virus. We wanted to get her opinion on the number of contact tracers employed by the Florida Department of Health. 

In late April, we reported the state only employed 500 contact tracers, well below the minimum recommended by the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials. But the FDOH now tells us it has increased the number of contact tracers to 1,100 workers. Levine said it’s a move in the right direction.

“Absolutely,” Levine said.  We don’t know exactly how many we need but we need to stay ahead of the game here.”

We wanted to break the numbers down even further and checked in with FDOH offices in each of the Bay Area counties, though not all were as forthcoming as others.

We learned Hillsborough County currently has 54 contact tracers, Polk County has up to 20, and Pasco County up to 15. All three offices said they currently have enough workers to handle all cases, but only Polk and Pasco counties confirmed they are dedicating staff specifically to long-term care facilities.

Manatee County did not provide us with a number at all.  Pinellas County would only confirm it increased the number of contact tracers. Despite repeated requests over several days, we could not get an updated number.

However, when we inquired specifically about contact tracing at Freedom Square of Seminole, the long-term care facility with the highest number of deaths on the state, a spokesperson got back to us within the hour, citing Florida Statute that says the department was exempt from sharing any information.

Levine said the state will likely need to further increase it’s number of contact tracers moving forward. The FDOH said it currently has enough to meet demand but is prepared to up the number as needed.

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