COVID-19 response team created in Orange County

The Department of Health in Orange County has a new COVID-19 response team to deal with contact tracing.

It looks like a phone bank, but this team of investigating was hired to help keep residents safe from the coronavirus. It starts with a phone call to a patient who has tested positive for COVID-19.

"We inquire about their contacts and their travel. Their occupation, see if there are any other cases amongst their family and friends," said Charles Letizia, an epidemiologist.

There are 37 contact tracers on the team. Program manager Alvina Chu said she has seen an increase in younger people.

"Over the last several weeks, the percent of new cases are age 15-24."

Since August 25, the Department of Health has had more than 8,500 cases assigned -- 22% are often identified with a group setting such as a nursing home, correctional facility, or school. Chu said the hardest part is getting people on the phone.

"Not speaking with us, doesn't mean there’s not something going on there. So we don’t make that assumption."

Experts at the COVID-19 Response Center, also known as CORE say the spread can happen right in your own home.

Chu said, "Family member starts to feel a little tickle in the back of the throat, a runny nose, everyone thought it was allergies."

That’s why they are warning people to beware of holiday gatherings..

Letizia said, "Holidays may end up being a risk factor for COVID-19, traveling and seeing your family and friends is not the time to let your guard down."

They said there are contact tracers specialized in different facilities, such as schools or nursing homes. The team also consists of nurses, epidemiologists and data managers.

"If we do identify any large clusters or outbreaks we follow up with those individuals," Letizia added.

If you’ve tested positive for COVID-19 and need a contact tracer, call the Orange County Department of Health Hotline at 407-723-5004. If you need guidance in treating COVID, call your healthcare provider.