Contact tracing is a tried-and-true tool from the public health toolkit
Gen Meredith is an expert in public health assessment, intervention development and workforce capacity building.
Gen can talk about contact tracing and what will need to be done to recruit, train, and deploy contact tracers in New York.
“Contact tracing is a tried-and-true tool from the public health toolkit. Contact tracing has been around for decades and it is so powerful as it allows public health leaders to do three key things: (1) get people who may have been exposed connected with the testing, treatment and care services; (2) provide people who are infected – or potentially infected, pending test results – with the knowledge and tools they need to reduce risk, increase health, and keep others safe; and (3) gather more specific information about what is driving or spreading an infection.
“In practical terms, for COVID-19, every person who is getting tested for is considered ‘infected’ until the test comes back negative. So, ideally, for every person tested, contact tracing starts. This is why there is an urgent need to recruit, train, and deploy contact tracers.
“Contact tracers, also known as Disease Detectives, contact people who are infected with or have been exposed to a pathogen that can be transmitted to others. Contact tracers speak with the individual to help them understand what they might expect if they are positive – such as who to call if they have symptoms, or where to get treatment; help the individual know how to keep their friends and family safe and how to not spread the infection; and, help the individual recall activities or interactions that have occurred that could have resulted in their own infection, or transmission of the infection to others.
“The contact tracers try to gather names of people who might be at risk, or locations where transmission could have happened. The contact tracers then contact the people who may have been exposed – never naming the person who is infected – and the process starts all over again.
“Public health leaders want to make sure that everyone who may have been exposed to COVID-19 knows where to get tested, and gets tested; contact tracers make that happen. Public health leaders want to make sure that everyone who has COVID-19 knows how to get the treatment and care they need; contact tracers make that happen. Public health leaders want to know who is getting infected, how the virus is spreading in communities, and who is most at risk for more severe illness, as this informs how and when we re-open and keep more people safe; contact tracers make that happen.”