Coronavirus contact tracing will be next phase of pandemic battle

Contact tracing — the process by which the people who have had contact with an infected patient are identified — will be key during the next stage of the coronavirus pandemic, and organizations are answering the call to scale contact tracing, according to STAT.

Public health experts agree that along with widespread testing, contact tracing will be necessary for the next phase of the pandemic, after the economy reopens and the initial surge of patients slows. Tom Frieden, MD, a former CDC director, told STAT that contact tracing will be the only way to mitigate further spread of the disease after the initial phase, estimating that the U.S. will likely "need an army of 300,000 people," to conduct the process.

Robert Redfield, MD, told NPR in an interview last week that a "substantial expansion of public health field workers" will be needed to conduct "very aggressive" contact tracing.

Several organizations in the U.S. are helping recruit and train people to conduct contact tracing. Public health nonprofit Partners in Health, which conducted contact tracing during the Ebola outbreak in Liberia and Sierra Leone, plans to recruit 500 people to conduct the process in Massachusetts. It plans to work with Massachusetts state officials, who want to train and deploy about a 1,000 people to contact trace in the state.

The University of California-San Francisco began training about 36 people to contact trace last weekend. The university plans to train 100 people in total to provide support for the 10 people the city has in its contact-tracing workforce.

"We are providing the people to make phone calls; we are working on standard scripts; we are working on IT solutions, training; and we are fielding teams of contact tracers," said George Rutherford, MD, head of UCSF's division of infectious disease and global epidemiology, according to STAT.

Marcus Plescia, MD, CMO of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, told STAT that usually the CDC would take a lead on organizing contact-tracing efforts, but "right now, they are pretty maxed out. It is the state and local governments who will have to train people and have a system that works."


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