State expands its roster of contact tracers

As the state slowly moves through phases to reopen, the Washington State Department of Health is quickly training new personnel to help with contact tracing, one of the key pillars of the governor’s “Safe Start” plan.

The state DOH has trained 723 National Guard personnel and 769 Department of Licensing personnel to help local health jurisdictions on an as-needed basis as of May 19.

“I’m grateful to the agencies who answered the call to contribute to this important work,” said Governor Jay Inslee in a statement. “We are all in this together, and the support from the National Guard and the Department of Licensing affirms that. Rapid work to track and prevent the spread of disease is an important piece of our ability to safely emerge from this pandemic.”

When a person tests positive for COVID-19, a staff member from the local health district contacts them for an interview to determine their other close contacts. This allows local health districts to notify those who may have been exposed to COVID-19 while the original person was contagious. Although public participation is voluntary, the process is an important step in helping find and isolate those with the virus to keep it from spreading.

“Case investigations and contact tracing are key pieces of the effort to keep Washington residents safe,” said Secretary of Health John Wiesman. “Both have been critical tools to suppress the virus in other parts of the world.”

This group of over 1,500 volunteers is on hand to help the approximately 630 local and state health professionals that will perform contact tracing. Additionally, thousands of volunteers from all across Washington have submitted applications and more volunteers will be trained and screened as needed in the coming months.

The goal of contact tracing is to contact everyone who tests positive within 24 hours to determine their close contacts, and then reach out to those contacts within 48 hours.