Contact tracer FAQs: How to get involved
EMTs, paramedics and firefighters are uniquely qualified to aid public health contact tracing efforts to limit the spread of COVID-19
By Marianne Meyers
A bipartisan letter to Congress from healthcare leaders recently called for $46.5 billion to safely reopen the U.S. economy to fund three major areas:
- Self-isolation facilities for those unable to isolate at home
- Income for those self-isolating
- Contact tracing
The health experts recommended $12 billion to expand the number of contract-tracing workers in the U.S. by 180,000 until a vaccine is available.
Fire and EMS providers already have the skills needed for COVID-19 contact tracing: including medical knowledge, communication and organizational skills, making you ideal for the job. Many states and other organizations are working to build up their tracing workforce. Here is some more information if you would like to get involved and answers to contact tracing FAQs.
What is contact tracing?
Once an individual has tested positive for COVID-19, contact tracers interview them to determine who else they may have been in contact with. These contact tracers then notify the individuals that they may have been exposed to COVID-19, evaluate their symptoms and instruct them to self-isolate for 14 days – a key step in stopping the continued spread.
The job, which can be performed remotely, pays between $17-22 an hour, with benefits, according to Business Insider.
Qualifications that can earn you a contact tracing job include:
- Local geographical knowledge (being a resident in the area you are applying)
- Medical knowledge and experience with public health (check!)
- Strong organizational and communication skills
Does patient privacy impact contact tracing?
Those who have come in contact with a COVID-19 positive patient aren’t told who is positive, only that they may have been exposed.
Where can I get contact tracer training?
The CDC has several training plans and other free resources for those who want to receive contact tracing training.
Many states and local public health departments have begun to organize their own contact tracing teams; check their websites for more information. Some states have reached out to private companies like Partners in Health in Massachusetts to hire contact tracers.
Other state public health departments are partnering with universities to provide contact tracer training.
UC San Francisco and the California Department of Public Health launched the UCSF Pandemic Workforce Training Academy on May 6, 2020, with an $8.7 million state contract. County health departments aim to use the 20-hour course, delivered online through videos, tests and live sessions, to train up to 3,000 contact tracers a week.
“Rapid and efficient contact tracing, along with sophisticated epidemic surveillance and widespread testing, are key parts of the public health strategy we must have in place before we can safely allow more businesses to reopen,” George Rutherford, MD, professor and chief of the infectious disease and global epidemiology divisions and director of the Prevention and Public Health Group at UCSF, said. “Done effectively, these strategies will help to break the chain of transmission and enable people to return to a more normal life.”
On May 11, the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health launched a free, 6-hour Coursera class to train contact tracers on the public health strategy. Taking and passing the course is a requirement for contact tracers being hired by the state of New York. Instructors and infectious disease epidemiologists experienced in outbreak response, including the Ebola outbreak in Liberia, developed the curriculum. Lead instructor, Emily Gurley, said during a press briefing, “Even if you stop one or two new infections, you're preventing many new cases down the line.”
Additional contact tracing resources
Reach out to your local health department for more information about how to become a contact tracer for your community. Learn more about contact tracing and how to get involved with these resources:
- CDC: Contact Tracing
- Facebook map tracks those reporting virus symptoms by county
- Apple, Google to harness phones for COVID-19 infection tracking
- CDC: COVID-19 contact tracing training: Guidance, resources and sample training plan