Maryland’s Contact Tracing Team to be Fully Operational By Next Week

Photo from the National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Rocky Mountain Lab

Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) announced Thursday that, after hiring more than 1,400 case investigators, Maryland’s contact tracing program will be fully operational across all 24 jurisdictions next week.

“To support our local health officials, the state has built a robust contact tracing operation and massively expanded Maryland’s disease investigation capacity,” Hogan said in a statement. “This will be a partnership across all 24 jurisdictions, and an all-hands-on deck effort to ensure health officials on the ground can trace and isolate the virus.”

According to a news release, Maryland had just 250 case investigators working at local health departments at the crisis’ start. The state government’s expansion of the program through a contract with the National Opinion Research Center “quintuples” the state’s ability to trace COVID-19.

“This is a way everyone can contribute to keeping each other safe and healthy, while helping us find and fight the virus,” said Fran Phillips, Deputy Secretary for Public Health at the Maryland Department of Health, in a statement.

With this introduction of over a thousand new investigators, local health departments are set to track up to 1,000 cases and 10,000 contacts each day. 

Earlier this month, the state put out an application to hire stay-at-home workers to serve as contact tracers. These investigators will reach out over the phone to COVID-19-positive individuals within 24 hours of receiving their test results. After interviewing the infected person about their symptoms and contact history, investigators will begin to seek out people that may have been exposed to this person, offering them guidance on staying isolated and how to best monitor themselves for symptoms. 

In conjunction with the Maryland Department of Information Technology, the Department of Health has created COVID Link, a data management platform that allows contact tracers to quickly and easily share information with local officials. 

The system was piloted in Baltimore City, and has since been introduced in Prince George’s and Anne Arundel counties. The news release says the software will be available in the rest of the state sometime next week.

COVID Link incorporates medical data from the Chesapeake Regional Information System for our Patients with Salesforce, allowing the investigator to ask questions of the infected individual. The questions asked will help determine what further steps need to be taken to slow the spread of the virus.

The platform gives tracers the ability to tailor questions unique to each infected individual, plot timeframes and escalation points and review and manipulate data, among other functions.

When someone is contacted by an investigator, the caller ID on their phone will read “MD COVID.” Upon answering the call, a series of other phone numbers will be provided to verify the tracer’s identity. 

Once an investigator has established their identity, they will ask the exposed individual to verify their name, birth date and contact information and will be asked to describe any symptoms and interactions they’ve had during a specific time period.

The news release states that contact tracers “will never ask for a Social Security number, financial or bank account information, or personal details unrelated to COVID-19.” Additionally, they will not request access to videos, photos, account passwords or finances. The Maryland contact tracing team has also been trained to maintain privacy, only collecting information within regulations and never disclosing the names of infected individuals.

“Participating with the state’s contact tracing program helps keep you, your family, your neighbors, co-workers, and community safe from this disease,” Philips said. “Please answer the phone if you see ‘MD COVID’ on the screen; working with our COVID-19 case investigators truly can help save lives.”

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Hannah Gaskill
Hannah Gaskill received her master’s of journalism degree in December 2019 from the University of Maryland. She previously worked on the print layout design team at The Diamondback, reported on criminal justice in Maryland for Capital News Service and served as a production assistant for The Confluence — the daily news magazine on 90.5 WESA, Pittsburgh’s NPR member station. Gaskill has had bylines in The Baltimore Sun, The Washington Post and The Chicago Tribune, among other publications.Before pursuing journalism, she received her bachelor’s of fine art degree from Carnegie Mellon University in 2016. She grew up in Ocean City.