PHN Explores: So you want to be a contact tracer? (From The New York Times)

PHN Content By Mat Edelson


If We Had Written the Headline

America needs you to reach out and trace somebody

Why You Should Care

If you want to do something that truly makes a difference in a pandemic, we can think of nothing finer than becoming a contact tracer. Most states desperately need tracers so public health officials can spot and control potential coronavirus hot spots. Tracing is a no-risk, high-reward effort, and all done remotely. Both volunteers and workers are being sought in large numbers, and, generally, no prior experience is required…just a desire to play your part.


What's New(s)

According to The Times story, states are looking to hire up to 300,000 workers; most will be allowed to work from home, conducting tracing and outreach efforts by phone.

The job can vary, but contact tracers usually work with investigators who’ve identified someone with coronavirus. That individual, who is guaranteed anonymity, tells investigators whom they’ve been around while they were contagious. This can include co-workers, family and friends, clerks at places they shopped, and so on.

The investigator compiles a list of those names (but, again, not the name of the contagious individual) and passes the list to the contact tracer. From there, the tracer calls or e-mails the people on their list, explaining that they may have been in recent contact with someone infected. Depending upon the situation, the tracer may also suggest that person go for a coronavirus test and/or self-quarantine.

Tracers are also taught how to connect the people they contact to support services, so if they’re asking a person who lives alone to self-quarantine, they’ll offer local resources to make sure that person has food and other essential needs.


Story Source

NY Times, May 18, 2020, by Jacey Fortin. Visit the story


Story Expert

Dr. Mike Reid, assistant professor of medicine, infectious disease expert, University of California, San Francisco School of Medicine; coordinates contact tracing efforts between UCSF’s Institute for Global Health Sciences and the San Francisco Department of Public Health.

Bonus Biscuit

Did you know that just 9% of infected people are responsible for spreading 80% of all coronavirus cases? We didn’t either, but those are some of the facts NPR uncovered in this story: Contact tracing helps scientists to study the ways the coronavirus spreads.

Bonus Bonus Biscuit

According to various sources, contact tracers can earn up to $25 an hour. If you’re interested, you may get a jump on the competition with this free* Johns Hopkins course: This course will train an army of contact tracers. You can take it, too. (Story from The Washington Post)

*We took a peek at the online course, which is offered through a Hopkins third-party affiliate (see the course here). The course offering indicates a $49 charge, but that is completely rebated on the next page prior to checkout. There is no credit card or payment information asked for; only an e-mail and some general registration information. According to the site, the course takes 5 hours to complete and is broken up into several sections.

Related Stories

The Times’ story expert, Dr. Reid, speaks more about contact tracing efforts in San Francisco in this story from The Guardian: San Francisco recruits army of social workers, librarians and investigators to track Covid-19


Deep Dive

The CDC has numerous resources for public health officials interested in contact tracing training and outreach. You can see them here