Pima County is moving forward with a plan to improve and increase contact tracing of Covid-19 by adding 127 full-time support personnel to its investigation and case-tracking efforts throughout the county but is facing delays in getting test results.

County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry signed off on a request from the newly Appointed Public Health Director Dr. Terry Cullen asking for even more resources directed toward contact tracing than previously allocated since the start of the pandemic.

When the pandemic began the communicable disease investigation team consisted of six department epidemiology staff members, 17 more were added to tracing efforts along with 11 retired healthcare volunteers from the Medical Reserve Corp of Southern Arizona and students from the Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health at the University of Arizona.

“At the current time, we are unable to initiate a case report on 68% of cases within a two-day period,” Dr. Cullen said in her request to Huckelberry. “Ideally, timely case investigation would ensure that at least 80% of cases have [an] initial interview with a [communicable disease investigator] within 48 hours,” of the department being notified of a case.

With the approval, the department will put out a request for proposals to local organizations for case investigation and contact tracing to fulfill the needed 127 additional support staff, as well as initiate more rigorous data collection and “obtain [an] appropriate data collection platform.”

The costs of these efforts are anticipated to be fully reimbursable by the federal government, according to a memo released by Huckelberry.

In today’s public health update posted on the county’s Facebook page, Acting Pima County Health Director Dr. Bob England explained the county’s contact tracing process and indicated significant delays in getting viral-test results pose an obstacle to efficient tracing efforts.

“You guys know I was sick last week, I started getting sick on Saturday, I got my nose swabbed on Monday, this is now nine days out, I’m still waiting for my test result,” Dr. England said. “And that’s nobody’s fault, the lab is just backed up.

“So, it’s one thing to say we’ve got plenty of testing, now we can do contact tracing. It’s another thing to say, well, we’ve got testing but can you get an answer fast enough to do anything about it?

“That being said, this isn’t going to be perfect. Just like social distancing isn’t perfect...you just got to expect there’s going to be leaking around the edges no matter how well we do this and how hard we try,” England said.