Contact Tracing

What is contact tracing? Contract tracing is an infrastructure that allows COVID-19 cases to be tracked down and isolated, significantly mitigating the spread of the virus.  Tracers find active coronavirus cases, contact the positive individual and find out where they have been and who they have had contact with in the recent weeks.  The tracers provide necessary information and advice to the infected individual and contact those who may have been exposed.  All positive cases are encouraged to self-isolate for two weeks and to continue to monitor their condition.  For more detail on the principles of contact tracing, read the CDC’s contact tracing guide here.

Contact tracing is a necessity to contain COVID-19.  It is a technique already used and credited with containing SARS and Ebola outbreaks.  When implemented properly, it requires data monitoring and management, ongoing communication with the public, housing options for those who need to self-isolate and a comprehensive testing infrastructure.

Before the current outbreak, the US employed about 2,200 tracers but experts say that the US will need closer to 100,000 in order to combat the spread of COVID-19. While this may help offset currently staggering unemployment numbers, it is not clear whether the US stimulus bills so far passed will have enough funding designated to hire the necessary amount of tracers to make a dent.  

To manage COVID-19 epidemics going forward, communities in the United States need: (1) ready access to rapid diagnostic tests for all symptomatic cases or those with a reasonable suspicion of COVID-19 exposure; (2) widespread serological testing to understand underlying rates of infection and identify those who have developed immunity and could potentially return to work or school without fear of becoming infected; and (3) the ability to trace all contacts of reported cases. In order to trace all contacts, safely isolate the sick, and quarantine those exposed, we estimate that our public health workforce needs to add approximately 100,000 (paid or volunteer) contact tracers to assist with this large-scale effort. This workforce could be strategically deployed to areas of greatest need and managed through state and local public health agencies that are on the front lines of COVID-19 response. To do this, we also estimate that Congress will need to appropriate approximately $3.6 billion in emergency funding to state and territorial health departments.

–Excerpt from A National Plan to Enable Comprehensive COVID-19 Case Finding and Contact Tracing in the US, by Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Google, Apple and other technology companies are working on tracing initiatives using apps, location data and Bluetooth technology, but this has also raised concern over privacy and data sharing. While information necessary for tracking the virus is highly personal, developers assure users you must opt-in and that no information will be used to identify individuals. For more information on tracking technological development, check out this CNN article. You can read more about the relative merits of contacting tracing technology versus privacy protection in this publication from Cornell. 

Contact tracing is vital to fighting COVID-19.  It’s funding and implementation will be what allows for reopening at any level.  For contact tracing training, click here.  To apply for contact tracing jobs, contact your state’s Department of Health.

Yours in Strength,
The Take Back Control Team

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