Amid criticism, FL health department defends its contact tracing program for COVID-19

Color-enhanced image of coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 (in blue), which causes the dangerous respiratory disease COVID-19. Credit: National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases-Rocky Mountain Lab

With Gov. Ron DeSantis blaming young people for Florida’s surge in coronavirus cases over the past few weeks, concerns have been raised about the state’s efforts to combat transmission through contact tracing.

State Rep. Shevrin Jones, who has been illustrating his battle with COVID-19 on social media, criticized the Florida Department of Health this week about its contact tracing program after he said he’d been contacted by a worker following his COVID diagnosis.

“Unfortunately, the @HealthyFla [state health department’s Twitter stream] rep called me and attempted to do contact tracing for my Covid-19, but she: 1) Was unprofessional, 2) Her phone disconnected and I have not heard from them since last Thursday,” Jones, a Democrat representing part of Broward County, said in a Twitter post Monday.

Critics have argued that Florida failed to hire enough contact tracers and doesn’t meet health officials’ staffing recommendations for contact tracing, according to a report in The New York Times.

Contract tracing involves identifying individuals testing positive for the virus and others with whom they’ve come into contact to track disease vectors. Questions about the state’s plans in this regard were among those posed by state Senate Democratic leadership in a letter to DeSantis Wednesday.

The Florida Department of Health said in an email to the Florida Phoenix that it has boosted hiring of contact tracers and even hired a contractor to help expand the program.

“More than 1,600 individuals, including students, epidemiologists, and other staff from across the department, are currently involved in contact tracing every positive case of COVID-19 in Florida,” said Alberto Moscoso, spokesman for the department.

“The Florida Department of Health has also engaged with Maximus, a widely recognized company with previous experience in supporting governmental agencies, to hire an additional 400 contact tracers and 200 disease investigators,” he added.

“The department is prepared to further expand the number of contact tracers, if necessary, based on operational need.”

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention describes contact tracing as “key to slowing the spread of COVID-19” that continues to plague the nation.

As of 11 a.m. Wednesday, COVID-19 testing had produced another 9,989 new positive results, boosting the total in Florida to 223,783. Additionally, the overnight tally had risen to 48, which pushed total deaths to 3,889.

A little more than 14 percent of test results received overnight were positive. The median age for people testing positive is now 39.

Issac Morgan
Issac Morgan is a 2009 graduate of Florida A&M University's School of Journalism, and a proud native of Tallahassee. He has covered city council and community events at the Gadsden County Times, worked as a sports news assistant at the Tallahassee Democrat, a communications specialist for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, and as a proofreader at the Florida Law Weekly.