Proposed Plans Call for Additional Contact Tracers; Existing Workforce Cannot Be Ignored
With state houses and legislatures across the country drafting plans for the reopening of their respective states, the expansion of contact tracing has become a vital component as we now shift to containing the COVID pandemic. While much attention has been paid to expanding the contact tracing workforce, existing Disease Intervention Specialists (DIS) – or STD contact tracers – have largely been overlooked.
In a recently published op-ed in CNN, David C. Harvey, executive director for the National Coalition of STD Directors (NCSD), explains, “…while Massachusetts and Illinois have announced plans for how they will handle contact tracing, they are outsourcing the work rather than relying on the existing and more advanced contact tracers that exist within their health department. As this war rages on, continuing to disproportionately impact black and Latinx communities, it is clear what needs to happen: states must prioritize the existing DIS workforce in their state health departments to assist with the contact tracing effort and the CDC must make a considerable investment in the long-term sustainability of DIS not only to fight back against Covid-19, but to prepare for health crises to come.”
An investment in the current tracing workforce is critical, because as Harvey says in a Bloomberg interview, “the U.S. needs far more than mere bodies…It needs a system to track state tracing capacity and far more higher-level professionals called disease-investigation specialists. Every 10 tracers will need such a specialist. Only 2,200 exist nationwide.”
Harvey expands on this point in CNN, adding that there are currently 1,600 of these disease detectives nationwide who are funded by the CDC as part of STD programs, and who are being redeployed to combat infectious disease outbreaks like COVID. And while no one entity is leading on contact tracing, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced this week a major initiative with the Tristate area to build a new contact tracing program, which Harvey commented on with Brian Lehrer on WNYC.
Ultimately, an expansion of the contact tracing workforce could help the many Americans who have lost jobs due to the pandemic. Harvey told Now This that prospective tracers should check their local or state health department websites for openings as this force is expanded.
Harvey added: “No matter what your background, you can be trained to do this work.”
On April 29, Harvey’s organization NCSD, in partnership with the Association for State and Territorial Health Officials, launched a free, on-demand training for entry-level COVID-19 contact tracers, which received several thousand registrants.
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.