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House of Representatives
Session of 2019 - 2020 Regular Session


Posted: April 21, 2020 11:14 AM
From: Representative Dan Frankel
To: All House members
Subject: Healthy and Vital Communities Bill
In order to avoid ongoing periods of widespread self-quarantine and social distancing in the face of Covid-19, the United States should follow the example set by other countries that have successfully taken steps toward normalcy without sacrificing public health. Systematic testing, case investigation and contact tracing has shown itself to be a vital tool in safely lifting restrictions: Testing helps us understand who is sick with the virus, case investigators speak to those individuals to find out who they’ve been in contact with, and the tracers call those individuals to let them know they’ve been exposed. It is a labor-intensive, but necessary, process to reopening our economy safely. Unfortunately, our state is uniquely unqualified to put such a practice in place.
Pennsylvania is notable for having one of the smallest investments in the public health workforce in the country. Since 2005 the dollars spent per person on public health have plummeted from nearly $30 to nearly $15, with a ranking of 42nd in the country. (State Health Access Data Assistance Center)
During this crisis, it has become clear we must remedy that. Pennsylvania should invest in the people necessary to perform the roles of case investigation and contact tracing for the next wave of the pandemic now. Because case investigation requires access to individual health information, we need public health professionals tied into a secure data system to perform those jobs. A strong public health workforce would allow us to put newly unemployed Pennsylvanians to work and prepare for the next wave of the pandemic.
According to a Center for Health Security report, “National Plan to Enable Comprehensive Covid-19 Case Finding and Contact Tracing in the U.S.,” the U.S. as a whole should hire 100,000 contact tracers. Recently, Massachusetts increased their workforce to 15 contact tracers per 100,000. Estimating 40 case investigators per million residents to speak to sick individuals, and double that number of tracers, Pennsylvania could benefit from at least 520 new case investigators and 1,000 new contact tracers. Ultimately, the number of new staff needed will depend on the characteristics of the population, the number of individuals with Covid-19, and the extent of social distancing requirements. Our legislation provides flexibility for the department.
Pennsylvanians want to leave their homes and begin to rebuild our vibrant communities. We cannot do so if we are afraid to go to work, or into businesses. It’s time to invest now, so that we can ensure a strong foundation to begin our rebuilding.
The Governor has stated that he will pursue a measured approach. My legislation would create the infrastructure needed to support that approach.