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California Ramps Up COVID-19 Contact Tracer Training, But Volunteers Want To Help, Too

Andrew Nixon/CapRadio
Nurses at Cal Expo test a patient for COVID-19 on Wednesday, April 15, 2020.

Cindy Moore has been spending a lot of time on her iPad lately, keeping up on the latest COVID-19 news and looking for ways to help. The 67-year-old retired geologist, who lives in Sacramento, would love to be a contact tracer, one of thousands the state of California is training to track how people acquired the coronavirus.

“It would give me a chance to help in this situation in a place that’s really needed,” she said.

As COVID-19 continues to spread in communities, many people have looked for ways to help. One is contact-tracing: California and other states need more people to investigate and trace how people acquire the virus and who they come in contact with, so as to stop its spread and stave-off outbreaks.

Besides providing a needed service, contact-tracing might also be a good way to take up the 10-15 hours-a-week of free time that Moore has on her hands. She’s also hoping to supplement her income; her gig helping senior citizens with computer problems has dried up, as they are following social-distancing orders. It seems like the perfect time to try something new.

“I have an analytical kind of mind and I get along well with people,” she said. “So, I think it would be a good position.”

There is demand for contact tracers. A month ago, the National Association of City and County Health Officials estimated a need of 100,000 in the United States California Gov. Gavin Newsom says the state would need 20,000.

Each state has promised to hire a certain number of tracers, but they will also use existing employees.

There are already job postings: A Google search turned up openings in the last week in Redding, Santa Rosa, Atwater, Ventura, all over northern Nevada and several other states. Some are county positions, others are through temp agencies.

Moore says she is reviewing them to see what would work. She would rather help a local entity.

“I know the geography and the streets. I can say, ‘Did you go to X place?’” she said.

It’s possible that Moore won’t be able to work as a tracer for Sacramento County Department of Public Health, which says it might take unpaid volunteers in the future who sign up through the Medical Reserve Corps website.

Yolo and Placer also might take volunteers in the future. Spokespersons with El Dorado, Yuba and Sutter counties say they are fine for now. San Francisco has been training librarians and some people who are retired from the medical field.

Before individuals can begin tracing cases, they must go through 10-to-12 hours of online training. It starts with epidemiology, the study of diseases, and what scientists know about COVID-19. Then, how to interview people and what questions to ask.

“There is a script with very specific questions, so the individuals who are doing the interviewing have those questions in front of them, ” said Alice Gandelman, director of the UCSF California Prevention Training Center. “Then, we have a variety of skills-based sessions.”

UCSF and UCLA trained 560 people during a trial run the week of May 11. The first full session begins May 18, and UCSF’s Gandelman says she expects to certify up to 3,000 people.

State agencies will likely rely almost exclusively on the training provided by UCSF and UCLA. But there is training available from other sources.

Moore has already completed the first couple of phases provided by the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials. It’s the same training Placer County workers received.

“It’s definitely good to find out there are possibilities for this,” Moore said, adding the kind of work suits her “to a T.”

Copyright 2020 CapRadio