In the absence of a federal plan, some city and state health departments are already looking to fill thousands of these positions. Experts estimate that between 100,000 and 300,000 contact tracers – which can earn up to $ 65,000 per year – will be required nationally based on state populations and COVID-19 infection rates planned.
“I think it’s a fantastic job for people who have been on leave, and it’s something people can be trained to do,” said Roger Shapiro, professor of medicine at the Harvard School of Public Health. “It takes some training, but it’s not impossible to train almost anyone with reasonable social skills, who can work on a script, start a conversation with people, convey a few key messages, and collect data.” , did he declare.
Shapiro expects demand for contact tracers to increase as businesses start reopening and Americans resume normal operations, which public health experts say could cause viral infections to spike . “It’s wonderful to have a growing industry right now given the state of the economy,” he said.
What is contact tracking?
Contact tracing is a proven approach to contain infections. It is commonly used to contain sexually transmitted infections and tuberculosis.
Contact tracers identify infected individuals based on test results obtained from city and state health departments. Then they contact people – initially by phone, in most cases – who have tested positive for the coronavirus. The tracers will ask them to recall the names of all the people they have recently been in contact with. Finally, contact tracers will warn these people of their potential exposure, advise them to self-quarantine, and give them access to the resources they may need to follow the protocol.
The containment method is the most effective way to stop transmission when the contacts of an infected person are immediately informed that they have been exposed. But getting test results quickly is paramount, said Christiana Coyle, professor at the NYU School of Global Public Health and former contact tracer for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“If there is a three-day lag between the test and the results, depending on where that person goes, hundreds of people could be exposed – compared to if a person is tested and gets the results 15 minutes later, she can start taking precautions immediately, “she said. “When you do not receive results for a few days, the value of the tests is greatly diminished if they cannot be returned quickly for contact tracing purposes. “
Applications can also help you. Apple and Google have made available to public health organizations tools to develop contact tracking applications that allow people infected with a coronavirus to record their diagnoses and use Bluetooth technology to alert other users. from the app that they were nearby.
But experts point out that technology cannot replace human contact tracers, which conduct lengthy interviews and detective work in hunting down the myriad of paths the disease can take as it travels through the population.
“Contact tracking applications can complement human contact tracking and increase efficiency, but they are not a substitute for everything you can do to train armies of contact tracers to call contacts and reach out,” said Shapiro. “There are so many things that go into a call like that that help someone understand the nature of the contact and what to do about it if they get sick.” “
Meanwhile, Brookings Institution document argues that contact tracing apps could threaten privacy and “act as a vehicle for abuse and misinformation, while providing a false sense of security to justify the reopening of local economies and national long before it is safe to do so. “
Do I need experience? What skills are required?
Applicants for tracer contact positions do not require health care training, but strong interpersonal skills and empathy are essential, experts said. Being at least interested in public health also goes a long way. Call center workers often successfully “detect disease” because contact tracers are also known.
“The perception that they must be doctors or doctorate epidemiologists is not at all accurate. They should have an interest in public health and be comfortable with medical terminology. But basically, if you’re comfortable talking to people, answering questions and gathering information, you can do it, “said Coyle.
Although a layperson can be trained in public health procedures, knowledge of their community – to gain access to contacts – and the ability to build the trust of others are also essential qualities.
” [Y]you call the health service and you have to build the trust of those people. So understand the privacy issues related to collecting the information that is asked of them and how it will be shared – you need to be able to explain it all, “said Dr. Amanda Castel, former head of the epidemic intelligence department at CDC and professor of epidemiology. at the Milken Institute School of Public Health at George Washington University.
“You also call people when they are sick, do not feel well, stressed by the impact it could have on their family life and their work, so it is important to be empathetic and to reassure individuals as well”, she added.
Another desirable trait in applicants is the ability to be persuasive and convince people to self-quarantine if they could have been exposed to the virus. And while the basic task of detecting infections is relatively simple, the effort quickly becomes more complicated once people are asked to quarantine.
“Then you have to consider each individual and the care they need and the comprehensive services needed to help them get through isolation,” said Lori Tremmel Freeman, CEO of the National Association of County and City Health Officials, a group which supports almost 3,000 local health services.
“Many people in vulnerable communities do not have many resources – they cannot isolate themselves because they need their jobs, ” Freeman said, “And maybe they feel threatened with the end of their job or they can’t isolate themselves because they live in a multi-family house and they will infect everyone in the House “.
So who is hiring?
Among the initiatives to hire contact tracers currently underway:
- In New York State, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced last week that the state would hire up to 17,000 plotters as part of a reopening strategy in coordination with Bloomberg Philanthropies and Johns Hopkins University.
- The New York Department of Health and Mental Hygiene has partnered with the New York Fund for Public Health to hire its own body of contact tracers. Successful applicants will earn a salary of $ 65,000.
- In California, Governor Gavin Newsom has said he wants 10,000 contact tracers investigating transmission networks across the state.
- Massachusetts recently announced plans to recruit 1,000 people to conduct contact tracing, along with Boston nonprofit Partners in Health. Her job description mentions the need for “excellent interpersonal skills” and “the ability to interact professionally with culturally diverse individuals in times of crisis and distress”. Although fluency in English is required, the ability to speak for a second is also valuable, depending on the job offer. The job salary is not advertised.
- The Georgia Department of Public Health is also announcing openings for contact trainers, who can expect to earn up to $ 15 an hour for their work. Minimum qualifications include a high school diploma, excellent interpersonal skills and more.
- In Washington, D.C., Contrace Public Health Corps, a social enterprise, helps local and state agencies screen and train people who wish to become contact tracers (to consider, apply here.)
- Washington Governor Jay Inslee said last month that he expected about 1,500 contact tracers to work in the state by mid-May.
Freeman recommends that applicants check with their local and state health departments to see if they are hiring.
“Local health services have been doing contact tracing since the beginning of time and are certainly knowledgeable and experienced,” she said. “But when you talk about adapting the response to the threat in your community, there has to be an increase in staff to adapt to what’s going on with this disease. “