Public health offices are pulling in state employees from outside agencies to aid contact tracing efforts. The move comes after the Department of Health Services announced earlier this month that it would be expanding its tracing programs.
In an email to WORT, DHS spokesperson Elizabeth Goodsitt wrote that the agency has trained 259 new contact tracers so far. The new tracers serve as surge capacity to supplement local health services, like Public Health Madison and Dane County.
DHS Deputy Secretary Julie Willems Van Dijk says the state agency is looking for workers who don’t have traditional medical training.
“Traditionally, they’re people with training in public health. But, very quickly, we’re helping lots of people across the state become public health practitioners,” she says. “We need contact tracers who have empathy for the tragic effects of this virus.”
The Wisconsin National Guard is also poised to aid the state in contact tracing. Last Wednesday, Major General Paul Knapp said the Guard is standing by.
“Right now there’s a great plan in the works to get contact tracing stood up and we haven’t received a specific request yet in that realm, but we’re definitely ready and able to mobilize a significant additional number of guardsmen,” he says.
Amanda Kita-Yarbro is an epidemiologist with Public Health Madison & Dane County, where she heads the Disease Control Unit, which manages the county’s team of contact tracers. She says the local public health agency has recruited 31 people to operate its contact tracing department.
Kita-Yarbro says that unlike DHS, Dane county has yet to pull in external county agencies to aid in contact tracing.
“Here at the county level we have brought in some recent retirees. People who have previously worked for Public Health, but have retired,” she says. “Most of them were public health nurses, but not all. So they’re familiar with how we work and communicable disease follow-up in general. But, we haven’t brought people in from other agencies yet.”
Dane county’s contact tracing operation is divided into two groups. Sixteen contact tracers are responsible for notifying people they’ve been exposed to the virus. Fifteen case investigators conduct interviews and testing. Only licensed nurses and medical workers can serve as case investigators.
In a study issued earlier this month, researchers at Johns Hopkins University advised that the United States recruit at least 50,000 more contact tracers to combat the pandemic.