All states across the U.S. are now looking to hire hundreds and thousands of contact tracers to help in mitigating the spread of the coronavirus.
Contact tracing has been acknowledged as one of the crucial elements in mitigating the spread of the coronavirus. Now that the United States is about to reopen its economy fully, public health officials encourage the government to create teams of contact tracers.
Contact tracing helps to slow down the spread
Joshua Sharfstein of Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health explained that contact tracing—particularly without the need to implement draconian measures like lockdowns—enables the government to slow down the spread of the virus.
Contact tracing involves tracking down individuals (most likely close contacts) who potentially got exposed from a COVID-19 patient. Tracers are required to assess the individuals about the disease, too, while encouraging them to self-isolate for 14-days to avoid the virus from spreading.
“It is a sort of a safety valve to prevent reopening turning into a big problem,” said Sharfstein, the vice dean for public health practice and community engagement at Johns Hopkins.
According to him, the country needs at least 150,000 contact tracers, particularly with the rising number of infection cases across the U.S.
In Illinois, the city of Chicago has started hiring eligible contact tracers already and is looking to bring 600 individuals on board. Per ABC7Chicago, Governor Pritzker also wants 4,000 tracers to ensure public health safety of people in Illinois.
In Paterson, New Jersey, Dr. Paul Persaud said hiring a team of contact tracers has paid off. During the peak of the outbreak, the area recorded 260 cases every day. But the numbers wane down when they started contact tracing.
How to become a contact tracer
For workers displaced by the pandemic, the opportunity appears to be the easiest route out of unemployment. Recently, Johns Hopkins created an online course for contact tracing for free.
In a statement via CNBC, he said:
“We may not have a medicine that is really effective. We don’t have a vaccine yet. But there are actually things we can do to fight the coronavirus together, and contact tracing is one of them.”
The program covers various lessons, including interviewing techniques, how SARS-CoV-2 spreads, as well as ethics of contact tracing and confidentiality. The course only takes six hours to complete.
When it comes to actual work, the role may stretch from sending foods to individuals under quarantine to finding hotel accommodation for those who cannot afford a home quarantine setup.
On the one hand, the hiring is done by state and local health institutions, and salary ranges from US$40,000 to US$70,000 [AU$58,245 to AU$101,930] a year, depending on the level of skills. In Chicago, Illinois, the city offers $20 per hour.
The job may also last for a few months or even a year if needed. So far, 250,000 people have enrolled in the program, and 70,000 tracers have passed, as per Sharfstein.