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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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