Philadelphia is set to enter the “green” phase of reopening on July 3 following over three months of economic closure due to COVID-19. Although many businesses will reopen and summer activities will begin or resume, it is important to remind ourselves that COVID-19 has not disappeared, and specific action will be required to ensure sustained declines in transmission and avoid rapid reclosure. The COVID-19 resource page on the Philadelphia Family Pride website is now updated with COVID-19 related resources within Philadelphia and the surrounding counties, in addition to information on virtual programming and social-distance friendly summer activities for families with children of all ages. In addition to the newly shared resources, we would like to share some information on two key efforts for expanding and sustaining reopening goals, which will require everyone’s cooperation to be successful – masking and contact tracing.
Regular use of masks in public spaces has become common practice over the last few months. Pennsylvania and New Jersey are among the 15 states plus Washington D.C. in which masks are required in any essential business, a trend which will likely continue as the states reopen. Although rules behind masking may seem arbitrary at times, emerging research continues to demonstrate the effectiveness of masking in preventing transmission of COVID-19, which will prove a key strategy for sustaining economic reopening. A recent study out of the University of Iowa’s College of Public Health evaluating the effectiveness of masking based on state mandates for public use found a significant decline in daily COVID-19 grown rate after orders were enacted requiring community masking. These effects increased over time, with an estimated 230,000 - 450,000 COVID-19 cases possibly averted because of masking mandates made between March 31 and May 22. Of the 20 states that required essential employee masking, but not community-wide masking, changes in county-level COVID-19 grown rates were small and insignificant, thus suggesting that community-wide masking policies are the only effective mask-based measures for slowing transmission. Thus, sustaining reopening plans in Pennsylvania and New Jersey will require all of us to adhere closely and conservatively with masking policies.
contact tracing: what to expect if you get the call
In addition to consistent masking, another key reopening strategy will include active participation in contact tracing. Many of you have likely heard some buzz around Contact Tracing, an emerging effort to identify and track individuals who may have encountered someone who tested positive for COVID-19. Prior to joining the PFP team, I spent some time volunteering with Penn Medicine’s Public Health COVID-19 Response Team, and wanted to share my experience so folks know what to expect if they receive a call.
Contact tracing involves two arms of efforts, one - identifying and interviewing positive “cases” on where and to whom they’ve been in contact within the two weeks prior to becoming ill, and two - calling potentially exposed “contacts” to inform them of their exposure and give guidance on how to slow the spread of transmission. If you test positive for the virus following testing at a Penn Medicine facility or drive-thru center, or are identified as a contact, here are some explanations to common questions I have experienced through my work as a tracer. Please note, this guide is based on my personal experience with Penn Medicine and although many contact tracers follow similar operations, your experience may be different based on where you (or the positive case) got tested.
To reiterate, none of your information is shared outside of the contact tracing system and the Department of Public Health. Through the work contact tracers have done so far, we have saved lives and stopped the spread of disease, likely a piece of why Philadelphia’s case rates continue to decline. However, none of that work is possible without the trust and cooperation of the people we are calling. I hope this clarification will ease confusion regarding contact tracing and help you be more prepared if someone calls you. For more information, please see Penn Today’s recent article regarding contact tracing.
Post written by Taylor Goldberg, PFP Intern