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Contact tracers play important role in slowing spread of COVID-19

Posted at 6:59 PM, May 04, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-04 19:59:20-04

OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — Contact tracers play an important role in slowing the pandemic. It's their job to figure out where a sick person has been and who they may have been in contact with.

As states begin reopening across the country, health experts urge government officials to implement more contact tracing.

“Typically I have a staff of 7,” Justin Frederick Supervisor, Communicable Disease Epidemiology at Douglas County Health Department said. He says they're adding to their team of contact tracers.

“Right now, we have about 25 staff that are dedicated to working with individuals who have tested positive for COVID-19,” Frederick said. “And again to identify all of their potential contacts they might have exposed so we can notify them they should stay home.”

In Douglas County, they conduct 40-60 contact investigations a day focusing on high risk contacts such as people in their home, coworkers or friends if they had a gathering.

NPR estimates 30 tracers are needed per 100,000 people. On average, each state only has 7,602 workers.

Nebraska is one of four states who meets or will meet the estimated need for workers.

“I’m working with the college of public health at UNMC and public health program at UNO,” Frederick said. “I’m looking at hiring 10-20 recent graduates to come in and start working with my team to conduct contact tracing.”

Douglas County Health Department’s goal is to get notifications done within 24 hours. If they're unable to do that, they will look at expanding the contact tracing team further.

Some states are turning to technology to help trace possible exposures. Google and Apple are creating a software that allows people to report whether they’ve tested positive.

Doctors and researchers at the University of Washington with Microsoft volunteers have built an app to alert you to public health announcements, potential exposure to COVID-19, and to assist public health officials and contact tracing teams without compromising your personal privacy.

COVID SAFE is a smartphone app. Really the focus of what we're trying to do is to help manual contact tracing,” Justin Chan, COVID SAFE Developer said.

Frederick said people have a lot of questions and feel better when they can talk to a real person from public health.

“We have a set up another team that can assist them with any needs they have transportation, housing, we can try to get them hooked up with housing at UNO in the dormitories if they can’t successfully isolate at home from others. Food. Mental health. Those types of services,” he said.

Even as directed health measures are starting to be lifted, Frederick asks people to still be cautious.

“Honestly, until we have a vaccine in place, I think we will be doing a lot of contact tracing,” he said.