As part of the state’s goal to effectively reach its June 1 target date for Phase 1 reopening, health officials announced a formal plan to hire and deploy 200 Delawareans as COVID-19 contact tracers across the state.
The state has hired the research institution NORC at the University of Chicago to build Delaware’s statewide contact tracing program, which is considered an essential element of containing the spread of COVID-19.
Contact tracers identify infected individuals and then track down anyone they could have exposed to the virus.
Governor Carney said today that the initial hire of contact tracers at the state’s Emergency Response Center in March wasn’t nearly enough as the number of positive cases multiplied in the following weeks.
He also said that even though the Delaware Division of Public Health does hire contact tracers on a “regular basis,” the first several weeks of the state’s response to the pandemic focused on “putting out the fire.”
“You might remember it was started in the University of Delaware community from basically a bioscience group that had traveled to New Jersey and came back with folks that were infected and it kind of went from there. From then on it was like a wildfire that broke out, and we were spending all of our time trying to put out the fire and install fire breaks in, and all the rest of it,” said Carney.
Dr. Karyl Rattay also addressed the timing of the rollout of the large scale contact tracing program.
“I don’t know any state that has fully stood up their contact tracing program. I think Massachusetts was out in front and has been a great model for all of us. But I have been in state government, federal government the private sector, and I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anything so complex, and really on this scale come to come together this quickly,” she said.
Delaware will use federal monies from the CARES Act to support the statewide contact tracing initiative.
NORC also has partnered with the State of Maryland to perform contact tracing. Delaware and Maryland will share information to more effectively monitor COVID-19’s spread across state lines.
Applications for contact tracers and other associated positions will be posted at de.gov/coronavirus in the coming weeks. In Massachusetts, contact tracers are paid $27 an hour, and in New York, they are offered a salary of $57,000.
According to the CDC, being a contact tracer requires specialized skills such as maintaining confidentiality, interviewing, counseling, knowledge of how infection works and more.
Efforts will first focus in Sussex County, where state health officials are trying to reduce the hot spots. Many test-positive cases there are of individuals who speak Haitian or Spanish. So the Delaware Emergency Management Association today said they will be looking to hire bi-ligual individuals and people who “culturally can relate to people with different backgrounds” when possible.
The contact tracing workforce will conduct their work over the phone as well as out in the field.
The Delaware National Guard is currently being trained to execute the first phase of the new contact-tracing program while the hiring process gets underway.
“To safely reopen our economy, we need to be able to quickly identify positive COVID-19 cases and reach out to those residents who may have been exposed,” said Governor Carney.”
The state also announced last week that they would begin testing up to 80,000 Delawareans monthly for COVID-19.