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Contact tracing, other measures help to slow the spread

Dr. Daniel Glunk, chief quality officer for UPMC in the Susquehanna region, and his colleagues have worked tirelessly to continually improve contact tracing procedures at area hospitals.

“The pandemic is here to stay,” Glunk said. “We are tracking everything and taking care of our patients who test positive through our labs. From infants to someone who was in their late 90s, the majority of the people we have traced have recovered safely at home. When you come into the hospital, we are prepared to take care of you as well.”

Contact tracing is performed after a patient tests positive in an effort to warn others that patient may have been in contact with.

People who have been in direct contact with this COVID-19 positive person are then contacted by medical professionals who will guide them through the quarantine process.

Medical professionals ask the patient questions about recent travel, any known contact with other positive cases and more.

“This (contact tracing) isn’t new for COVID,” Glunk said. “This would happen with a salmonella infection or other infectious diseases that could be tracked by a health department. In a pandemic though, with contact tracing you can determine how it is spreading and hopefully mitigate further spread.”

Those who were in contact with the patient who tested positive are advised on quarantine procedures such as limiting contact with pets, avoiding using the same bathroom as others in the home, separating yourself from others in the home and wearing a mask while at home.

“What is unique about our program is that we also had questions to make sure there weren’t social needs,” Glunk added.

If they needed ways to get groceries or medicines, UPMC would then connect them to a social worker and help them at no cost.

In the earlier stages of the pandemic, Glunk said that the spread was “definitely a result of travel” but now the virus has “integrated itself into our counties at a lower level”.

He added that precautions such as face masking and washing your hands should be continued to be required as the virus will continue to be with us and we are all at risk of “potential contact.”

UPMC also partnered with their paramedic departments and arranged for them to be able to do in house testing for those who cannot come into testing facilities.

“The goal is to have everyone successfully recover in their home,” Glunk said.

They did this process in nursing homes as well.

UPMC works alongside the state Department of Health on contact tracing, to extend its reach to as many people as possible.

“For the most part, the people that we contacted got followed up on and contacted by the Department of Health,” he said. “There was a lot of synergy in making sure that people were doing what they needed to … in order to prevent the spread.”

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