LANSING — As part of efforts to continue expanding COVID-19 testing and contact tracing of potentially exposed Michiganders, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) again expanded its testing criteria to include all essential workers still reporting to work in person, whether they have symptoms or not, and launched a large-scale effort with more than 2,000 volunteers to expand contact tracing capacity.
“Contact tracing is an essential public health tool and will help determine and limit the spread of COVID-19 in our state,” said Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, chief medical executive and chief deputy for health. “This effort is also giving Michiganders an important way to contribute to crisis response and we appreciate their willingness to step up for their communities, pitching in selflessly for work that will help us all.”
Contact tracing is a proven public health strategy that involves identifying those affected by COVID-19 and interviewing friends, families and others near that person about their contacts and symptoms. MDHHS is contracting with Great Lakes Community Engagement, a firm that specializes in outreach campaigns to engage citizens, and Every Action VAN, a voter/individual contact platform used by non-profits, to provide software to help organize remote phone banking and track information and contacts.
More than 2,200 volunteers have completed MDHHS’ contact tracing training and are ready to begin aiding local health departments. This workforce will increase the speed and thoroughness of contact tracing statewide. These volunteers are in addition to more than 130 MDHHS staff who have been assisting local health departments with case investigation over the past couple weeks and have reached more than 12,000 COVID-positive individuals.
Dedicating additional resources to contact tracing is needed as testing criteria and testing locations are rapidly expanding. Last week, MDHHS announced the expansion of testing to all Michiganders experiencing symptoms. Starting April 21, testing eligibility criteria is being expanded again to include all essential workers still reporting to work in person with potential COVID-19 exposure, whether symptomatic or asymptomatic. This will help identify asymptomatic cases who may still be spreading the virus as they report to work.
“This means that anyone with symptoms can get a test as well as any individual regularly interacting with others outside their household, as long as the testing location has the supplies,” Khaldun said. “MDHHS is also working with local health departments to expand testing in group living facilities with potential exposure.”