For Decades, Contact Tracers Have Stemmed the Spread of HIV, Ebola, Zika and Are Needed Now More Than Ever to Fight Back Against COVID-19
As President Trump prepares the nation to re-open parts of the U.S economy, Disease Intervention Specialists (DIS) – or STD contact tracers – are being recognized as an essential component to help curb infections and help recover from the COVID pandemic.
On NBC Nightly News, reporter Sam Brock outlined the vital role that contact tracers play in contacting those who have contracted diseases, tracking infections, and preventing further spread by isolating the source.
Mr. Brock interviewed David C. Harvey, executive director for the National Coalition of STD Directors (NCSD), who explained, “We need tried and true experts on the ground who know how to do this work.” Mr. Brock also detailed that a new report from John Hopkins University advocates adding an extra 100,000 contact tracers, a role that takes a year to properly train for.
Harvey also spoke to Erin Billups on Spectrum News, and in response to the news that major tech companies are designing apps for contact tracing, he emphasized that the latest technology can’t replace the skills of these public health workers: “Most people are not going to elect to allow a tech company or the government to pinpoint their location at any point in the day to give them warnings about proximity to other COVID patients…We welcome new technology platforms, but nothing replaces person-to-person contact with real people – boots on the ground – that folks trust in local communities so that we’re breaking the chain of infection.”
And in an interview with Politico, Harvey said that while contact tracers are familiar with community of color after closely working with them for decades, this is a workforce that is still being overlooked.
A recent story in Route Fifty reinforced the importance of these skilled public health workers, outlining the strategy of individual states hiring contact tracers through partnerships and public health departments. According to the NCSD, “the majority of the 2,000 STD disease investigation specialists employed across the country have already been detailed to coronavirus-related work, including contact tracing.”
Correspondent Andrea Noble then explains, “Bryana Fryczynski, a disease intervention specialist with the Michigan Department of Public Health and Human Services who is now focused on Covid-19 tracing efforts, said the work is very similar to tracking the community spread of STDs like syphilis or HIV, except she now conducts all of her outreach by phone, text or email rather than in person.”
The role of DIS was further explained by Dr. Christopher Hall, the Clinical Advisory Chair for NCSD, who outlined the importance of appropriate funding to ensure that workers are hired, trained, and ready to respond to the crisis.
The full explanatory video by Dr. Hall can be found here.
The National Coalition of STD Directors is a national public health membership organization representing health department STD directors, their support staff, and community-based partners across 50 states, seven large cities, and eight US territories. Our mission is to advance effective STD prevention programs and services across the country. NCSD does this as the voice of our membership. We provide leadership, build capacity, convene partners, and advocate. Go to ncsddc.org for more information.