Contact Tracing Challenges in a Covid Environment
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Contact Tracing Challenges in a Covid Environment

By Stacey L. Flanagan, Director of Health and Human Services, City of Jersey City

Stacey L. Flanagan, Director of Health and Human Services, City of Jersey City

If you have been reading the news, watching TV,or scrolled through any social media sites, you have heard of Contact Tracing. It is a trusted public health intervention that helps slow or stop the spread of infection. In this case, Contact tracing is being highlighted as the number one intervention to protect the health of our communities across our country.

Contact Tracing has been used for decades by state and local health departments. Each year, Contact Tracers, also known as disease investigators and epidemiologists, manage hundreds of cases to reduce the spread of communicable and/or infectious diseases such as Measles, Mumps, Tuberculosis, as well as Sexually Transmitted Infections/Diseases.

Given the rapid exposure of Covid-19, Contact Tracers need to work quickly. Contact tracers use a variety of methods, including phone calls, emails, and social media messaging to communicate with individuals who have tested positive for Covid-19. Daily, Contact Tracerslocate and talk with infected individuals, assist in arranging for them to isolate themselves, and work to identify people with whom the patients have been in close contact so the contact tracer can locate.

"Given the rapid exposure of Covid-19, Contact Tracers need to work quickly"

States and Cities across the country are investing millions of dollars in developing Contact Tracing jobs as well as applications for Bluetooth-enabled wearables and smartphones. To-date, there have been several online classes offered, free of charge, to thousands of individuals interested in Contract Tracing. States and Cities are increasing their Contact Tracing staff in many ways. Some agencies are subcontracting, while others are hiring directly.

With new staff, there are new challenges. Onboarding helps new hires adjust to the social and performance aspects of their jobs to get them right to work. Historically, onboarding often meant trailing or following a staff person already doing the work. In addition, where a staff member sits, how the supervisor interacts with employees, etc. all have an impact on Contact Tracing success.

In addition to staffing challenges, effective technology and tools are necessary. Simple purchases for equipment to provide to these new staff have seen delays. In addition, basic internet upgrades for new staff to enable them to work from home are necessary. Prior to CARES Act support, foundations jumped into the mix to fill the gap in technology and tools.

With all this investment, sadly, the compliance in Contract Tracing is lackluster.

According to the New Jersey Department of Health’s Covid Dashboard, as of September 8, 2020, statewide, there are over 50 percent of individuals refused to provide contacts to a Contact Tracer. This means, while the Covid-19 positive individual has answered the phone or communicated with a Contact Tracer, they refused to provide names of individuals that may have been exposed to Covid-19.  In Jersey City, Contact Tracing staff have often heard from Covid-19 positive individuals that while they appreciate the call and information, they feel they are “rating on their friends and family and will not provide contact names.”Without trust from Covid-19 positive individuals, Contact Tracers cannot inform people of their possible exposure. Furthermore, this does not allow a Contact Tracer to provide those exposed to get basic information so that they canmonitor their health while receiving information necessary to support the overall health of the community

Contract Tracing is animportant intervention to slow the spread of Covid-19, and it requires everyone’s participation.

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