COVID-19

What does a contact tracer’s job entail?

Rae Ellen Bichell Jun 30, 2020
Heard on: Marketplace Morning Report
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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
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.”

Click the audio player above to hear the full story.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

What’s the latest on the extra COVID-19 unemployment benefits?

As of now, those $600-a-week payments will stop at the end of July. For many, unemployment payments have been a lifeline, but one that is about to end, if nothing changes. The debate over whether or not to extend these benefits continues among lawmakers.

With a spike in the number of COVID-19 cases, are restaurants and bars shutting back down?

The latest jobs report shows that 4.8 million Americans went back to work in June. More than 30% of those job gains were from bars and restaurants. But those industries are in trouble again. For example, because of the steep rise in COVID-19 cases in Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, increased restrictions on restaurant capacities and closed bars. It’s created a logistical nightmare.

Which businesses got Paycheck Protection Program loans?

The numbers are in — well, at least in part. The federal government has released the names of companies that received loans of $150,000 or more through the Paycheck Protection Program.

Some of the companies people are surprised got loans include Kanye West’s fashion line, Yeezy, TGI Fridays and P.F. Chang’s. The companies you might not recognize, particularly some smaller businesses, were able to hire back staff or partially reopen thanks to the loans.

You can find answers to more questions on unemployment benefits and COVID-19 here.

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