The need for contact tracing continues

Coronavirus

A smartphone belonging to Drew Grande, 40, of Cranston, R.I., shows notes he made for contact tracing Wednesday, April 15, 2020. Grande began keeping a log on his phone at the beginning of April, after he heard Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo urge residents to start out of concern about the spread of the coronavirus. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

COVID-19 Dashboards

CAPITAL REGION, N.Y. (NEWS10) — Contact tracing has been around for nearly a century. However, for many people, it seems like it has been a new word since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Back in the winter months, there was a high demand from local counties to hire contact tracers. These tracers were essential to help stop the spread of COVID. Now, as cases continue to decline, we don’t hear much about the job. Is the demand still there?

“New York has the country’s most robust contact tracing program, reaching 83% of those who test positive statewide (initial cases) and 88% of their contacts. While New York’s continued case decline is welcome news, contact tracing is still occurring as a necessary tool to stop virus spread. Currently New York has 7,430 state-contracted contact tracing staff.

A SPOKESPERSON FROM NYSDOH

The job as a contact tracer hasn’t been as stressful as it was during the winter time where cases were on the rise. Rensselaer County Public Health Director Mary Fran Wachunas says it’s not a seasonal job. Rensselaer County is always looking to hire contact tracers.

“We’re trying to hire a couple more because the people who are doing it need to go back to their jobs,” says Wachunas. 

Wachunas says the benefit right now is that a lot of people are vaccinated— but the job is still being taken seriously. “We’ll do the same thing that we do with the communicable disease — call the person up, find out who they have been with and make sure that people are safe.”

Claire Proffitt, Schenectady County Supervising Public Health Nurse says the county went from having nearly 50 contact tracers to now she can count the number of tracers on her hand. While the work isn’t as busy, tracers are still making the calls to those people who have been exposed to the virus. Luckily, for people who have been exposed and are vaccinated, they do not need to quarantine.

“That’s like a real benefit of being vaccinated, you’ll get a call from a contact tracer, they’ll check your vaccination date and then they will just send you on your way,” says Proffitt.

The emotional support these contact tracers give to people over the phone is still one of the most crucial parts of the job.

“I think the big, really important part of the contact tracing now, you know there is the public health aspect of preventing the spread of infection but there’s also a really practical role that we can make sure that people get the paperwork that they need to get out of work, we can connect them with social services,” Proffitt adds.

Proffitt says the Schenectady County will continue to contact trace in the summer. “Right now it’s really looking like the contact tracing for COVID will be disappeared by the end of summer.”

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