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Pa. testing and contact tracing to continue amid vaccine rollout

As the vaccine rollout begins, health officials emphasized the need to deal with the current winter surge of COVID-19 cases.

HARRISBURG, Pa. — As the vaccine rollout begins, health officials emphasized the need to deal with the current winter surge of COVID-19 cases.

At a Pennsylvania Department of Health update on testing and contact tracing, officials said both efforts would continue until the country reaches herd immunity—when 80 to 90 percent of the population is immune to the virus.

“There will be still be pockets, whether the pockets are in Pennsylvania or whether they're nationwide… that will be difficult to reach,” said Michael Huff, DOH director of testing and contact tracing. “Difficult to reach not only with testing and contact tracing, but difficult to reach with the vaccine. Our plans will continue until we have the confidence that we have everything under control.”

RELATED: Pa. Department of Health provides update on coronavirus: 8,818 new positives, bringing the statewide total to 673,915

Health officials planned a sharper focus on surveillance testing of those without symptoms, especially in high risk communities like nursing homes and universities.

“Our goal is to provide easy access to testing for the community, especially to those populations who are vulnerable or at higher risk,” Huff said.

Several new measures are meant to improve the state’s contract tracing process going into the new year.

Ten “social support coordinators” have been hired to help those facing hardship while quarantining.

“When we talk with folks and we ask them to quarantine for 10 or 14 days, we're often hearing from folks that they might struggle in doing so, either because of worrying about losing their job, worrying about food insecurity, housing issues, etc.,” said Lyndsey Mauldin, special assistant on contract tracing for the DOH.

An online “Connect and Protect” form will help make case investigations more efficient. Those who test positive can fill out the form themselves while contact tracers spend that time reaching out to others.

As another surge of cases is expected in the next weeks following holiday gatherings, officials encourage people to cooperate with contact tracers.