In our previous post, Guidance for Safe and Effective Temperature Screenings, Medix provided advice on how temperature checks are one useful tool for helping mitigate the impact of COVID-19. As the virus continues to have a negative impact on workers and businesses across the country, we want to address another effective strategy for slowing the spread of infectious diseases – contact tracing. This process is a common practice and has been successfully used to control the spread of disease for decades in the United States.

What is Contact Tracing?

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) defines contact tracing as “identifying people who have an infectious disease and people who they came in contact with and working with them to interrupt disease spread.” It’s a process that takes place in tandem with testing. When a patient tests positive for COVID-19, the lab results are sent to both the healthcare provider and the local health department. Because there is no federal contact tracing response, what happens next largely depends on what strategies your state and local government have in place. More information by state is available from the National Academy for State Health Policy.  

Typically, the contact tracing process follows these steps:

  • A patient’s positive test result initiates the contact trace process, and a team is assembled. Because infected people can be contagious before symptoms appear, or even with no symptoms at all, a rapid turnaround time is critical.
  • The patient is urged to self-isolate, which ideally means in a separate room with its own bathroom and no exposure to people or pets. Providing support during this time is critical and many local health departments and community groups will step in.
  • A contract tracer will interview the patient with COVID-19 to determine who they had close contact with while they were contagious.
  • The contact tracing team will notify each contact of their potential exposure and provide testing resources and quarantine information. It’s important to note that the patient’s name is not revealed during this process.
  • These contacts are urged to self-quarantine for 14 days, which means maintaining social distancing at all times and staying home as much as possible.
  • The contact tracing team will keep in touch with all contacts to monitor for COVID-19 symptoms.

Contact tracing is one of the most effective ways to cut down the transmission of the virus so the economy can reopen safely. But, it’s also labor-intensive and not enough trained contact tracers are currently available.

Closing the Healthcare Workforce Gap is the Key to Success

The pandemic has made it clear that our healthcare system is under-resourced. In its contact tracing recommendations, the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health notes that the U.S. public health workforce has been sharply reduced by funding cuts over the past 15 years. In addition, public health job losses in the 2008 recession amounted to a reduction of 50,000 positions across public health organizations nationally. This has left a tremendous labor gap in the industry making it difficult to ramp-up a large-scale operation where it’s estimated that 100,000 contract tracers are needed to effectively confront the pandemic.

One solution is to recruit non-healthcare workers. Medix is working to identify and place individuals interested in working as contact tracers. The position doesn’t require an education in public health and qualifications are largely based on interpersonal skills such as being able to interact professionally with culturally diverse individuals during crisis; show empathy to distressed individuals; and handle confidential information with discretion and professionalism.

All applicants are directed to a free contact tracing training resource from the Association of State & Territorial Health Officials where they complete an introductory online course for entry-level COVID-19 contact tracers. This training is also augmented by specific state and local specific training. Once trained, applicants become eligible for immediate placement.

How Business Leaders Can Support Contact Tracing

While the responsibility of hiring and training contact tracers doesn’t fall on business leaders, we all have a role to play in ensuring it succeeds. Here are a few things everyone can do to support the initiative:

  • Educate your employees about the importance of testing and saying home when sick. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) guidelines state that during a pandemic, employers have the right to ask employees if they have symptoms or have been diagnosed with COVID-19 without violating the Americans with Disabilities Act.
  • Should you learn an employee has contracted COVID-19, follow all of the protocols set by the CDC and notify your local public health department.
  • Should you be contacted by a public health official regarding an employee testing positive, cooperate fully by providing the information they request which may include contact information, schedules, floor plans, seating arrangements, etc.
  • Support your employees by giving them the necessary time off to either self-isolate or quarantine and provide paid sick leave and other resources if possible.
  • Always maintain privacy and keep names confidential.

Like everyone, Medix wants to see the virus suppressed and our communities thriving. It’s going to take a collaborative effort to get there, and that’s why we’re focused on getting qualified and trained contact tracers out in the field as quickly as possible. To learn more about contact tracing, and our role in the process, please reach out to your Medix representative or click here to reach us.