The Pennsylvania Department of Health is hiring 1,000 additional contact tracers to bolster the state’s efforts to contain coronavirus outbreaks by quickly notifying people who might have been exposed.

The news comes on a day when state health officials announced another 970 COVID-19 cases — bolstered by more increases in Allegheny and Philadelphia counties. There were just two new cases in the Valley, one each in Northumberland and Snyder counties.

The Health Department on Friday announced a $23 million, federally funded contract with Atlanta-based staffing agency Insight Global to recruit, hire and train the new workers, who will join the state’s existing contact-tracing force of more than 650.

The new jobs include full-time and part-time contact tracers and supervisors, with hourly rates ranging from $18 to $24. The Health Department said recruitment will be focused on workers who have been laid off because of the pandemic.

Contact tracers identify people whom COVID-19 patients have been in contact with so they can be tested and isolated.

The Health Department has also said it is seeking to test out a mobile contact-tracing app that automatically notifies people if they might have been exposed to the virus. It relies on Bluetooth wireless technology to detect when someone who downloaded the app has spent time near another app user who later tests positive for the virus.


New cases

The Health Department said 970 more people have tested positive for the virus, with 13 new deaths. According to DOH, 7,189 Pennsylvanians have died, including 4,904 with ties to long-term care facilities.

Allegheny County is reporting an increase of 244 cases and Philadelphia County is reporting an increase of 130 cases. Of the new cases in Allegheny County, 30 cases have specimen collection dates from more than two weeks ago and at least 77 are known to be among long-term care residents and staff.

As of Thursday, July 30, the state has seen a seven-day case increase of 6,228, the previous seven-day increase was 6,010. The statewide percent-positivity went down to 4.6% from 4.7% last week.

The mitigation efforts we took on July 15 were a proactive step to get in front of the rise of cases that we continue to see,” Gov. Wolf said. “Our percent positivity decreased this week, which is a positive sign, but in order to continue to see numbers decrease, we must continue to wear masks and practice social distancing.

The number of infections is thought to be far higher than the state’s confirmed case count because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected without feeling sick.

There were just two new cases locally on Friday — on each Northumberland and Snyder counties — while the state cut Union County's six-case increase from Thursday in half, taking three cases away as health officials continue to reconcile data.

In nursing and personal care homes, there are 19,484 resident cases of COVID-19, and 3,934 cases among employees, for a total of 23,418 at 850 distinct facilities in 61 counties. Approximately 8,214 of total cases are in health care workers.

There have now been 719 cases of the novel coronavirus in the Valley: 401 in Northumberland County, 132 in Union, 93 in Montour and 93 in Snyder.


Nursing homes

According to the state Department of Health, there have been 1,104,824 negative tests and state health officials estimate 75 percent of those testing positive have already recovered.

State data shows that 756 residents remain hospitalized due to complications of COVID-19 and 104 on are ventilators.

There have been 84 confirmed cases of the virus reported from residents or of Valley nursing homes. There was no change in Friday's local case count.

In Northumberland County long-term care facilities, 61 residents and 11 workers have been infected and eight deaths have been recorded in four facilities. Three workers and two residents at four Union County facilities have been infected and one worker and no residents have been infected in one Montour County facility. In Snyder County, four residents and two workers have been infected in one facility.

There have been no deaths reported from nursing homes in Snyder, Union or Montour counties.

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