Contact tracers: How county health departments are gearing up

North Carolina news

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — As we prepare to enter Phase Two, a big focus is being put on contact tracing. Those folks tasked with tracking down people who’ve come in contact with someone infected with COVID-19.

The Wake County Health Department said it has 50 and plans to add another 110.

“Contact tracing and our ability to understand where there’s been a high-risk exposure is a critical tool for us in public health to be able to limit the transmission of the virus,” Chris Kippes, Public Health Director for Wake County Human Services said.

Back in March, with community-wide transmission and the stay-at-home order in place, the county stopped doing contact tracing. There’s now a renewed focus.

“As we move through the phases of re-opening, we know more individuals will likely interact,” Kippes said.

That’s why the county is training those 110 people, all of them librarians, who are being re-purposed.

“It’s an information field. You know we are professionals, we all have Master’s degrees,” Ann Burlingame, the Deputy Library Director for Wake County said.

They’re also used to dealing with the public.

CBS 17 also reached out to several other counties.

Johnston County said the number of contact tracers varies, but they’re relying on current staff. Harnett County is using its public health staff. Moore County said it’s relying on 3 nurses and has added 3 school nurses. Chatham County has a total of nine.

“It has become more manageable level although we’ve still had to ramp up staffing capacity and diverted staff to this,” Chatham County Health Director Layton Long said.

The state said its hired 152 tracers and plans to hire another 100.

“We’re also being very intentional that the tracers who are hired reflect the diversity of the communities they serve,” Dr. Mandy Cohen, the Secretary for DHHS said.

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