Now Hiring Contact Tracers: What It Takes to Be a Disease Detective

What does it take to reopen the country? Health officials agree that rapid testing and contact tracing will soon become our best defense against future outbreaks. The CDC says the country will need an army of healthcare providers and “disease detectives” to help identify and isolate people who may have been infected as more states move to reopen their local economies.

But what does contract tracing look like in a country of more than 300 million people?

If you are looking for work or are anxious to help the country get back to normal as fast as possible, you may be interested in working as a contact tracer. Several states, including Massachusetts, New York, and Utah have already started hiring thousands of additional contact tracers to help mitigate future outbreaks.

Find out what it means to be a disease detective and how you can help those in need.

What Is Contact Tracing?

Contact tracing is the idea of tracing the potential spread of infectious disease, in this case, the coronavirus. When a person tests positive for the coronavirus or comes down with flu-like symptoms, contact tracers will then need to retrace this person’s steps and contact everyone they have been in contact with over the last couple days and weeks, depending on the situation.

This means calling people up on the phone or sending them an email alerting them that they have been in contact with someone that’s been infected. This person will then need to self-isolate and be tested as soon as possible to limit the spread of disease. This is how healthcare providers stop future infections from turning into full-blown outbreaks.

As you can imagine, the country will need hundreds of thousands of workers and volunteers to prevent future infections from spreading. In today’s fast-paced world, individuals can easily come into contact with dozens, if not hundreds, of other people in a single day, especially if they live in a big city or travel all over the country. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio recently said the city will need to hire an additional 1,000 healthcare providers to trace the spread of the virus in May. And that’s just one American city.

What It Takes to Track Down the Spread of Disease

Contact tracers need to have certain skills if they are going to succeed in their new roles, including:

  • A basic understanding of patient confidentiality
  • The ability to explain and understand medical terms
  • Exceptional interview skills
  • The ability to enter information into apps and other digital programs
  • If possible, the ability to speak multiple languages, especially in multicultural communities

Many states and local governments are using smartphone apps and digital programs to trace confirmed virus cases. Smartphone apps use GPS data to track the physical location of virus patients, so contact tracers can reach out to those they may have come into contact with along the way.

From a health perspective, contact tracing flips the traditional patient-provider relationship on its head. You’re probably used to patients coming to you when they need medical assistance, not the other way around.

As a contact tracer, you would have to contact people out of the blue, alerting them to the fact that they may be sick without their knowledge. This will likely catch some people off guard. You need to be prepared for all kinds of reactions when calling people on the phone, including everything from intense despair, fear, or desperation to outright hostility. Some people may react better to the news than others.

For some people, getting a call from a contact tracer can make all the difference in the world. Many people are feeling anxious and isolated from one another right now. Having contact tracers reach out to the general public can be a way of showing these people they are not alone.

Working as a contact tracer means being more than just a nurse or doctor. You may become this person’s only lifeline in a sea of chaos and misery. If the person is older, doesn’t have a place to stay or self-isolate, or suffers from existing health issues, you may need to be there to comfort them as well. In some situations, you may have to help the person find access to a local healthcare provider or a place to self-isolate. Many cities and states are turning hotels into temporary quarantine facilities, so vulnerable patients have a place to isolate safely.

How You Can Help

If you are looking for work or a way to help those in need, consider enlisting as a contact tracer, for which you do not have to have a medical license.

Local and state governments are currently putting together teams of contact tracers. Contact your local health department to see if you qualify and learn more about getting involved. If you know someone who possesses the skill mentioned above, encourage them to sign up as well.

Contact tracing and preventing future outbreaks will become the main focus in the months and weeks ahead. Consider working as a contact tracer today to help the country get back to normal as fast as possible.

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