Princeton Health Department forges ahead with contact tracing

Northbound of Witherspoon Street in Princeton features curbside pickup and outdoor dining designations on June 23.

The Princeton Health Department has been shoring up its contact tracing efforts as officials work to contain the spread of COVID-19 within Princeton.

This effort is part of an ongoing contact tracing task force that had been established in Princeton. The contact tracers are a combination of resident volunteers and department staff.   

“We are still operating with 10 contact tracers. We have been reaching out to confirmed cases to begin contact tracing within the industry standard 24 hours,” Princeton Health Officer Jeff Grosser said. “Many of our recent new cases have reported travel to other states and the Jersey Shore.”

Princeton Health officials for the past few months have not seen the infections of COVID-19 rise to levels of late April and early May.

State officials recently unveiled a new Contact Tracing Dashboard that provides the percentage of cases successfully interviewed, those who provided contacts, and contacts notified. The information all located at the New Jersey Department of Health (NJDOH) website.

There are more than 1,300 contact tracers who are currently in the field for the state contact tracing program. Contact tracers include existing local health department staff and Rutgers-trained contact tracers who have been deployed by the NJDOH.

More than 600 contact tracers have been hired through the Rutgers School of Public Health, which is expected to hire a total of 1,000 contact tracers. The state continues to build its contact tracing program as they work with the Rutgers School of Public Health and Public Consulting Group, according to state officials.

Part of the program has been the rolling out of CommCare, the state’s data reporting system for contact tracing, which was launched statewide in early July.

CommCare tied into Princeton’s Communicable Disease reporting system which uses diagnostic tests and puts cases directly into the contact tracing software. The health department has already trained several individuals from Rutgers University who were provided to Princeton from the NJDOH. Those individuals with be providing support for surge capacity in regards to contact tracing for Princeton if cases start to rise as fall approaches and schools reopen.

Princeton’s Health Department is also still accepting volunteers to conduct contact tracing. Grosser said volunteers have been crucial to the department’s response efforts.

“This is especially true if schools do resume on site instruction. Any cases in a school will likely need at least one person completely committed to providing outbreak prevention support to them,” he added. “And as we have seen with other outbreaks, this type of intensive public health effort, lasts for days if not weeks. The attempt to ‘clamp down’ on further spread in institutions requires regular communication, strategic interventions and public health planning with the health officer and Board of Health.”

The health department has been assisting schools with guidance this summer for reopening within the Princeton School District for the 2020-21 academic year. The district continues to await further guidance from the state officials on additional decisions regarding reopening.