The Virginia Department of Health is aiming to hire roughly 1,300 people to help them keep track of every Virginian who comes into contact with COVID-19.

With $58 million in federal funds at its disposal, the state health department will be hiring everyone from technical case investigators who have a background in public health to community members with strong ties and solid communication skills.

Tracers, investigators, data analysts, data managers and testing supervisors will be responsible for keeping tabs on people across all of Virginia’s 35 health districts.

On Thursday the department reported it had recorded 34,137 cases, 4,093 hospitalizations and 1,099 deaths since the COVID-19 pandemic began more than two months ago. Those cumulative figures include 1,709 probable cases, 27 probable hospitalizations and 35 probable deaths.

Virginia’s test total dropped Wednesday after testing more than 9,500 people Tuesday to determine whether they have COVID-19. On Thursday, the state health department reported it had conducted 5,864 new detection tests and 894 antibody tests, bringing its total testing figures to 241,957 tests and 216,890 detection tests.

The state’s seven-day positivity rate for detection tests is 14.4%, still above the 10% mark health officials want to see but down 0.1% from Wednesday. The positivity rate with antibody tests included was 13.2% on Thursday.

Determining whether someone has COVID-19 is the first step in a chain of events the state health department must follow to prevent continuing spread.

On Thursday, department staff spoke with reporters about their efforts to bring new people on board to continue the contact tracing effort.

Contact tracers, people who are in touch with people who test positive for an illness, are in common use and the department employs hundreds of people to keep tabs on viruses such as tuberculosis, whooping cough and various sexually transmitted infections. With COVID-19, the department is bolstering its ranks, pulling current employees off of their regular jobs to supplement the contact tracing workforce.

Mona Bector, the deputy commissioner of administration for the state health department,  said they are aiming to hire roughly 1,300 people but that number could change depending on how the virus continues to spread.

Marshall Vogt, an epidemiologist for the department, said each district’s contact tracers and case investigators will operate differently according to the need of their communities. Generally speaking, Vogt said investigators will have a “team” of tracers who will regularly check in with people who have come in contact with COVID-19.

It will be the investigator’s job to find out who has come into contact with the virus and where it might have occurred but the day-to-day tracking of how people are doing and whether they are becoming ill will be up to contact tracers.

The state health department has received more than 6,000 applications for various positions.

Bector said she believes the department will complete its hiring and training of new tracers and investigators within a couple of weeks.

The Lord Fairfax Health District, which covers Shenandoah, Warren, Page, Frederick and Clarke counties as well as the City of Winchester, has reported it has returned 53 detection tests, nine of which returned positive. The district reported it had 1,005 cases, 93 hospitalizations and 37 deaths. Total cumulative figures include 129 probable cases, two probable hospitalizations and two probable deaths.

Local cases

These areas in the Lord Fairfax Health District reported the following:

• Shenandoah County: 355 cases, 34 hospitalizations and 12 deaths.

• Frederick County: 245 cases, 20 hospitalizations and three deaths.

• Page County: 166 cases, 19 hospitalizations and 19 deaths.

• Warren County: 110 cases, 11 hospitalizations and two deaths.

• City of Winchester: 110 cases, seven hospitalizations and one death.

• Clarke County: 19 cases, two hospitalizations and no deaths.

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