RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — North Carolina needs about three times as many contact tracers as it currently has to handle its growing number of COVID-19 cases, according to an online projection.
The state Department of Health and Human Services says it has 309 contact tracers at the state level, and 1,500 more scattered throughout the counties for a total of more than 1,800.
But researchers at George Washington University created a contact tracing workforce tool that estimates how many tracers states and counties should have, based on population and their case counts.
That estimator recommends the state should have 7,100 tracers, or about 68 for every 100,000 people. That takes into account the average of roughly 1,109 new cases that have appeared in the state over the past two weeks.
Todd McGee, the community relations director for Orange County, told CBS 17 News that the staffing level of about 20 tracers in his county is sufficient.
“We think right now, for the caseload that we have, we’re OK,” McGee said. “But as you can see in the news, that number of positive tests, positive cases is going up each day, so if this trend continues, then there will probably be a need to bring on some more tracers.”
The Center for Health Security at Johns Hopkins University published a study that recommends the addition of 100,000 tracers across the country and estimates a need for $3.6 billion in emergency funding from Congress.
The job of a contact tracer is to reach out to every person who was in close contact with an infected or suspected-to-be-infected person, retracing their histories to notify them that they also may be at risk of infection.
He said that when the stay-at-home orders were in effect earlier in the spring, his contact tracers only called an average of 4-5 additional people for every infected person.
With those orders lifted and more businesses reopened, they’re making twice as many calls — with that average climbing to 10, he said.
State Epidemiologist Dr. Zack Moore has described the contact tracers at the state level — hired through the Carolina Community Tracing Collaborative — as a support system for the tracers in the counties and the communities, versatile enough to shift between locales and help wherever they’re needed. Some counties could reach out to the state to find tracers that speak additional languages — 44 percent of those hired by the state are bilingual — while other departments simply need more bodies.
McGee said Orange County is talking with DHHS about obtaining some help from the tracers in that group.