COVID-19

What does a contact tracer’s job entail?

Rae Ellen Bichell Jun 30, 2020
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A contact tracer in Brussels. The U.S. could need as many as 100,000 of them to track potential coronavirus transmission. Laurie Dieffembacq/Belga/AFP via Getty Images
COVID-19

What does a contact tracer’s job entail?

Rae Ellen Bichell Jun 30, 2020
Heard on:
A contact tracer in Brussels. The U.S. could need as many as 100,000 of them to track potential coronavirus transmission. Laurie Dieffembacq/Belga/AFP via Getty Images
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By one estimate, to help fight COVID-19, the U.S. could need at least 100,000 contact tracers. Those are the people who call up everyone who tested positive for the disease to find out who they’ve interacted with, and then proceed to call up all of those people to warn them and get their contacts, and so on.

“We’re going to need to hire a lot of people to do a lot of this work because that’s just gonna be the nature of it,” said Dr. Marcus Plescia, chief medical officer of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials. The organization has been pushing local health departments to get creative about where to find more contact tracers — like schoolteachers or even staff at local YMCAs.

Lisa M. Lee is an epidemiologist and bioethicist who is the associate vice president for research and innovation at Virginia Tech. She said the pool of potential contact tracers is huge. “There are many people right now who are out of work whose skills would be very transferable into something like this.” 

A good contact tracer should be able to honor confidentiality and use basic software to keep track of the info they’re collecting, among other things, she said. “And really importantly is a person who can exercise good communication skills using empathy.”

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COVID-19 Economy FAQs

Millions of Americans are unemployed, but businesses say they are having trouble hiring. Why?

This economic crisis is unusual compared to traditional recessions, according to Daniel Zhao, senior economist with Glassdoor. “Many workers are still sitting out of the labor force because of health concerns or child care needs, and that makes it tough to find workers regardless of what you’re doing with wages or benefits,” Zhao said. “An extra dollar an hour isn’t going to make a cashier with preexisting conditions feel that it’s safe to return to work.” This can be seen in the restaurant industry: Some workers have quit or are reluctant to apply because of COVID-19 concerns, low pay, meager benefits and the stress that comes with a fast-paced, demanding job. Restaurants have been willing to offer signing bonuses and temporary wage increases. One McDonald’s is even paying people $50 just to interview.

Could waiving patents increase the global supply of COVID-19 vaccines?

India and South Africa have introduced a proposal to temporarily suspend patents on COVID-19 vaccines. Backers of the plan say it would increase the supply of vaccines around the world by allowing more countries to produce them. Skeptics say it’s not that simple. There’s now enough supply in the U.S that any adult who wants a shot should be able to get one soon. That reality is years away for most other countries. More than 100 countries have backed the proposal to temporarily waive COVID-19 vaccine patents. The U.S isn’t one of them, but the White House has said it’s considering the idea.

Can businesses deny you entry if you don’t have a vaccine passport?

As more Americans get vaccinated against COVID-19 and the economy continues reopening, some businesses are requiring proof of vaccination to enter their premises. The concept of a vaccine passport has raised ethical questions about data privacy and potential discrimination against the unvaccinated. However, legal experts say businesses have the right to deny entrance to those who can’t show proof.

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