N.J., Del. to hire 1,200 contact tracers as part of COVID-19 response

Two local states are poised to hire at least 1,200 people to assist with contact tracing to assist with detecting and stopping new virus clusters before they get out of control.

The goal of these roles is to used investigators to contact people who test positive, track down their contacts and get them into quarantine before they can spread the virus.

Gov. Phil Murphy says New Jersey will be more than doubling the number of public health professionals currently tracing COVID-19 cases.

Murphy said Tuesday during a news conference that New Jersey will hire at least 1,000 people, creating a Community Contact Tracing Corps and supplementing the roughly 800 to 900 mostly county health officials who are currently tracing contacts among coronavirus-positive residents.

The news came as Murphy announced the state's COVID-19 data is trending in the right direction, though he stopped short of specifying dates by which the state might reopen its economy.

In Delaware, Gov. John Carney announced plans Tuesday to make approximately 200 hires for contact tracers and support staff. Applications for these and other associated positions will be posted at de.gov/coronavirus in the coming weeks.

An agreement has been reached with a nonpartisan research institution at the University of Chicago to build a statewide contact tracing program to contain COVID-19, limit Delawareans' exposure to the disease, and restart Delaware's economy.

The same nonpartisan group has partnered with Maryland, and the two bordering states will share information to monitor COVID-19's spread across state lines.

Delaware plans to test up to 80,000 citizens monthly for COVID-19. Expanded testing and contact tracing efforts are key to reopening the First State's economy under guidance from the White House and the CDC.

"One of our highest priorities is making sure that our workforce of contact tracers reflects the entire community we serve," said Department of Health and Social Services Secretary Dr. Kara Odom Walker, a practicing family physician, in a news release. "When positive cases of COVID-19 are identified through widespread community testing, our tracers will need to work quickly to talk with known contacts and help them self-quarantine with any necessary supports."

In Pennsylvania, officials say contact tracing has already begun in the first regions identified for reopening in the Yellow Phase of Gov. Tom Wolf's "Plan for Pennsylvania."

Due to a lower disease incidence rate, community health nurses in the Northcentral and Northwest Districts have begun to perform this work, notifying and monitoring identified case contacts in their regions. Special teams will monitor large congregate settings, like personal care homes, prisons and workplaces.

"In counties and districts outside of these regions, the department will partner with county/municipal health departments, healthcare networks, academic institutions, disease intervention specialists, displaced workers who are trained in contact tracing workflow and other volunteer organizations to perform this essential work.  These individuals will be trained in contact tracing and the technology involved," the state's health department's website states as part of its "Phase One" response.

Wolf also announced last week "Commonwealth Civilian Coronavirus Corps" public service initiative that will support these efforts.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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