MDHHS breaks down contact tracing job position

State to give health departments $10 million to hire contact tracers.
Published: Jul. 29, 2020 at 5:14 PM EDT
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LANSING, Mich. (WILX) - Michigan Chief Medical Executive Dr. Joneigh Khaldun pledged health departments across the state $10 million to hire contact tracers.

Contact tracers are responsible for contacting people who test positive for COVID-19 and the people with whom they have been in contact.

The hiring process is competitive.

“They’re not going to be some random people off the street,” Jonathan Warsh, chief of staff for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, said. “Health departments are going to be looking for individuals with public health backgrounds; nursing, social work, community health backgrounds.”

Contact tracers don’t have the most glamorous job.

“You may be telling them for the very first time that they tested positive for the coronavirus,” Warsh said. “They might be scared. You’re calling their contacts. Some people might be angry they may not want to isolate. They might have questions. We call people and we tell them they have to quarantine and they say, ‘Well, I live with seven other people, what should I do?’ or ‘I don’t have a way to get food, what should I do?’”

Warsh said the goal is to have people quarantine to eliminate the spread of the virus.

“The issue is we have to stop the chains of transmission and the only way to do that is individuals who test positive to isolate themselves for 14 days and then to quarantine all of their close contacts,” Warsh said.

Health departments say they will be picky with how many people they hire.

“There has been a lot of interest in this work,” Warsh said. “Massachusetts, which is a state we recently talked to, hired something like a thousand contact tracers and I think they had 40 thousand applications.”

The contact tracers will have to make calls, but some people are avoiding their phones.

“We’re still having challenges with people not answering the phone, wrong contact information that were received at the time they got the test and people not wanting to give us information about their close contacts,” Khaldun said in a press conference Tuesday.

Warsh said the phone calls are confidential and the information people provide is not shared with anyone else

The Ingham County Health Department is looking to hire contact tracers within the next few weeks. There are temporary applications online, but an official application will be released in August.

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