States ramp up coronavirus contact tracer hiring to reopen the country

COVID-19 contact tracers in NY are offered $57,000 with benefits

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For states that are gearing up to reopen despite the presence of coronavirus in the country, precaution is of the utmost importance to ensure there aren’t any new outbreaks.

Contact tracing has been a popular and seemingly effective method for flattening the curve in China, South Korea and Germany, which requires infected patients to disclose everyone they have recently come in close contact with. The people who have been exposed to the virus are then notified by contact tracers and are urged to self-isolate to avoid potentially infecting others.

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Being a contact tracer requires specialized skills such as maintaining confidentiality, interviewing, counseling, knowledge of how infection works and more, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“To be done effectively, it requires people with the training, supervision, and access to social and medical support for patients and contacts,” the CDC explains.

Moreover, contact tracing roles tend to be salaried and provide benefits, two factors that are important for many in a pandemic-stricken economy.

In Massachusetts, the Boston nonprofit Partners In Health is paying contact tracers $27 per hour while the Fund for Public Health NYC in New York is offering $57,000 with benefits.

How many contact tracers are the U.S. States hiring?

A survey published by National Public Radio on Monday found that 41 states and the District of Columbia have hired 7,602 contact tracers and plan to hire 36,587 more. Though it is a step in the right direction, the number of planned hires pales in comparison to the estimated need public health officials have suggested.

The current estimated need for contract tracers in the U.S. is 30 workers per 100,000 residents, according to estimates from the National Association of County and City Health Officials. In states that haven’t been hit hard with coronavirus cases, that number drops down to 15 workers per every 100,000.

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So far, the only state that meets the current estimated need for contact tracers is North Dakota. The two states that are on track to meet their estimated need for contact tracers are Michigan and Nebraska in addition to Washington, D.C.

As of April 27, there was no data available for the following 10 states: Alaska, Arizona, Delaware, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Georgia, Virginia and West Virginia. The remaining 37 states currently do not meet the estimated need for contact tracers, however each has set numbers for planned hires.

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Here is a breakdown of the planned contact tracer hires for the 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia, according to NPR’s survey.

Alabama: To be determined

Alaska: No data available at this time

Arizona: No data available at this time

Arkansas: 50 planned hires

California: 10,000 planned hires

Colorado: 50 planned hires

Connecticut: To be determined

Delaware: No data available at this time

District of Columbia: 148 planned hires

Florida: 0 planned hires

Georgia: No data available at this time

Hawaii: 60 planned hires

Idaho: No data available at this time

Illinois: No data available at this time

Indiana: No data available at this time

Iowa: 200 planned hires

Kansas: 400 planned hires

Kentucky: 700 planned hires

Louisiana: 700 planned hires

Maine: 15 planned hires

Maryland: 750 planned hires

Massachusetts: 1,000 planned hires

Michigan: 3,400 planned hires

Minnesota: 0 planned hires

Mississippi: 20 planned hires

Missouri: To be determined

Montana: 0 planned hires

Nebraska: 675 planned hires

Nevada: To be determined

New Hampshire: To be determined

New Jersey: 10 planned hires

New Mexico: To be determined

New York: 4,000 planned hires

North Carolina: 250 planned hires

North Dakota: 250 planned hires

Ohio: 1,065 planned hires

Oklahoma: 30 planned hires

Oregon: 600 planned hires

Pennsylvania: 0 planned hires

Rhode Island: 0 planned hires

South Carolina: To be determined

South Dakota: 41 planned hires

Tennessee: 150 planned hires

Texas: 2,850 planned hires

Utah: 30 planned hires

Vermont: 0 planned hires

Virginia: No data available at this time

Washington: 800 planned hires

West Virginia: No data available at this time

Wisconsin: 741 planned hires

Wyoming: 0 planned hires

NPR’s survey sourced records from state public health departments, NPR broadcasts and member station reporting in addition to local media reports and the National Association of County and City Health Officials. The number of planned hires reflects the data it obtained as of April 27 and will more than likely be updated as news develops.

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In the U.S. there are more than one million confirmed coronavirus cases and more than 60,800 deaths related to the respiratory illness as of Wednesday evening, according to data from the Johns Hopkins COVID-19 Dashboard.

Bipartisan health leaders Andy Slavitt, a former director of Medicare and Medicaid during the Obama administration, and Scott Gottlieb, a former Food and Drug Administration commissioner from the Trump administration, wrote to Congress this week asking for the American contact tracing workforce to be expanded by 180,000 people until a vaccine becomes available. The feat would cost an estimated $12 billion.

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