After 335 new COVID-19 cases announced in D.C. Friday, D.C. officials are hoping to drastically step up their contact tracing abilities.
The District is hiring 900 contact tracers — essentially disease detectives — whose job is to contact people who have tested positive for the virus and then figure out who they might have come in contact with. The tracers then inform people that they have been exposed and need to self-quarantine. They also ask questions and collect data for analysis.
Contact tracing is not just reactive, it is also preventive, making it among the most effective ways to stop the spread of the virus.
It is important to minimize the time between a positive test and the start of the tracing process, according to Jody Mennick, who supervises and trains contact tracers in Montgomery County, Maryland.
Coronavirus Cases in DC, Maryland and Virginia
COVID-19 cases by population in D.C. and by county in Maryland and Virginia
“If we wait 10 days before we call them or seven days before we call them, at that point they could have infected 50 more people,” Mennick said.
The District is hiring tracers quickly and will start training next week.
“We are looking for persons who have an ability to be empathetic, to be compassionate and caring because you’re talking to people who are going to be anxious about this,” said Ventris C. Gibson, director of D.C.’s Human Resources Department. “We will come through this together. [Mayor Bowser] has equipped human resources and DC Health to make sure that we have that sense of urgency and get to the goal line.”
Across the country other major cities are stepping up tracing, too. In hard-hit New York, former Mayor Mike Bloomberg is leading an effort to hire 17,000 contact tracers.