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AZ Counties Hiring Contact Tracers to Curb COVID-19 Cases

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Friday, June 12, 2020   

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz - The number of COVID-19 cases in Arizona is skyrocketing, putting hospitals on emergency status and prompting public health officers to look for ways to slow the spread. People are being encouraged to practice social distancing, wear face masks and, if they feel ill, get tested.

But Arizona epidemiologists say they're just beginning to unleash one of the most potent weapons in their anti-virus arsenal - contact tracing. Will Humble, executive director of the Arizona Public Health Association, says counties are scrambling to expand their staff of disease detectives to stem the tide.

"The challenge everybody has right now is to really get staffed up pronto, so that they've got resources that they need in place," says Humble. "That means finding the right kinds of people with the right temperament and the right kind of training. And then, doing the case investigations."

Epidemiologists say the state will need to expand its number of contact tracers from a few dozen to more than two thousand to effectively handle the crisis. Humble says anyone interested in being a contact tracer should call their county health department, or search the online job listings.

Humble, who was previously director of the Arizona Department of Health Services, says good communication skills are the key to successful contact tracing.

"It's not like you need to have a bachelor's or a master's degree in public health to be a tracer," says Humble. "The main thing you need is to be good with people, comfortable around people, and be able to be patient and explain things in a way that they understand."

When a COVID-19 case is identified, the patient is interviewed by a public health nurse for medical and demographic information. After that, contact tracers find out who the patient has been in contact with, and inform those people to take proper precautions. Humble says it's a big job.

"The issue that we have right now is that the workload is so big," says Humble. "Normally contact tracing, you've got a caseload and a manageable number of contacts that you need to work with. That's obviously not the case right now, because the just sheer number of cases is so dramatic."

He adds while the job isn't easy, it is a critical part of the effort to control the coronavirus. He says some contact tracer jobs are considered permanent. Others will be contract positions that last until the pandemic is over.


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