contact tracing
Members of Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health’s contact tracing call center team.

As the leading health-care provider in Lancaster County, Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health takes its responsibility to protect the health and safety of our community very seriously.

Several months into the COVID-19 pandemic, as stay-at-home orders and other restrictions are gradually lifted, LG Health is leading the effort to limit the spread of COVID-19.

Michael Ripchinski, MD, chief clinical officer for LG Health, said because COVID-19 can be transmitted before symptoms occur, early identification of positive cases, as well as people at high risk for exposure, is critical.

“Comprehensive testing and contact tracing are proven public health strategies for containing the spread of infectious diseases,” he said. “Without an effective treatment or vaccine on the immediate horizon, these efforts are essential to successfully containing COVID-19.”

In May, Lancaster County commissioners approved a proposal to spend more than $24 million in federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act money to support LG Health’s efforts to establish a contact tracing and testing program.

LG Health Expands COVID-19 Testing

Since the start of the pandemic, Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health has tested more than 25,000 patients for COVID-19. The health system previously offered testing at two community sites, which were established to temporarily meet testing needs during the initial local increase of COVID-19 cases.

In June, LG Health began transitioning to a longer-term plan by expanding testing capabilities to its extensive network of primary- and urgent-care locations for patients with symptoms. The expansion is part of LG Health’s contact tracing and testing program for Lancaster County, which launched in May.

Increasing access to testing is also part of the health system’s staged approach to safely reopening health services at all locations, to ensure that patients get the care they need without further delay. Staff at all LG Health locations offering testing are fully equipped and prepared, with safety measures in place to minimize the risk of exposure.

A provider order is required to receive a COVID-19 test. Patients experiencing symptoms should call their primary-care provider to determine if an appointment should be scheduled for further assessment, or an order placed for a test.

These efforts include a contact-tracing program to notify and counsel up to 50 new COVID-19 cases per day, and multiple testing sites with increased testing capacity.

Registered nurses contact patients as soon as possible after a positive COVID-19 test result. Team members help patients— who must self-isolate during their illness—recall anyone they have had close contact with during the time when they may have been contagious, including before symptoms developed.

The tracing team quickly notifies contacts of their potential exposure and offers support and guidance on next steps, which include quarantining, monitoring for symptoms and limiting interactions with others.

Both patients and contacts are encouraged to enroll in Sara Alert™—a secure tool that allows individuals who may have been exposed to COVID-19 to have their symptoms monitored remotely via daily texts, phone calls or emails.

LG Health is conducting this important work in partnership with the state Department of Health and state and local government authorities, community leaders and social-service agencies.

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