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

Are states ready to roll out COVID-19 vaccines?

Claire Hannan, executive director of the nonprofit Association of Immunization Managers, which represents state health officials, said states have been making good progress in their preparations. And we could have several vaccines pretty soon. But states still need more funding, she said. Hannan doesn’t think a lack of additional funding would hold up distribution initially, but it could cause problems down the road. “It’s really worrisome that Congress may not pass funding or that there’s information circulating saying that states don’t need additional funding,” she said.

How is the service industry dealing with the return of coronavirus restrictions?

Without another round of something like the Paycheck Protection Program, which kept a lot of businesses afloat during the pandemic’s early stages, the outlook is bleak for places like restaurants. Some in the San Francisco Bay Area, for example, only got one week of indoor dining back before cases rose and restrictions went back into effect. Restaurant owners are revamping their business models in an effort to survive while waiting to see if they’ll be able to get more aid.

How are hospitals handling the nationwide surge in COVID-19 cases?

As the pandemic surges and more medical professionals themselves are coming down with COVID, nearly 1 in 5 hospitals in the country report having a critical shortage of staff, according to data from the Department of Health and Human Services. One of the knock-on effects of staff shortages is that people who have other medical needs are being asked to wait.

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