During an unprecedented rise in unemployment, there is increasing demand for one job: contact tracers. Part of the U.S. Centres for Disease Control’s multipronged response to the COVID-19 pandemic, contact tracing involves calling people with suspected and confirmed infections and keeping a record of anyone they may have come in close contact with during the period when they were most contagious.
According to a survey conducted by NPR on May 7, states currently have plans to hire approximately 61,000 contact tracers—a figure that nearly doubled in the 10 days since the same survey was first conducted at the end of April. Now, the New York Times estimates that between 100,000 and 300,000 contact tracers will be required across the U.S. So what does it take to become a contact tracer, how much does it pay and who can apply? Here’s what you need to know.
What does a contact tracer do?
Unlike contact tracers in previous infectious disease outbreaks who went door-to-door collecting information, COVID-19 contact tracers are fully remote workers, conducting their interviews by phone. In addition to reaching out to people who have a suspected or confirmed case of COVID-19 to see who they’ve been in contact with, contact tracers also call those other individuals who may have been exposed to the virus.
During this process, they will do a symptom check, refer their interview subjects for testing according to established protocols and provide them with instructions for quarantine. These job duties are according to a job posting on Contrace Public Health Corps, which is helping to connect states, health departments and companies with people interested in becoming contact tracers. According to Business Insider, contact tracers are paid between $US17 ($27) and $US22 ($34) an hour, with benefits offered to full-time employees. Contact tracers work Monday through Friday on either eight-, 10- or 12-hour shifts.
What are the qualification for being a contact tracer?
As the CDC points out, “contact tracing is a specialised skill” requiring everything from an understanding of patient confidentiality, to basic skills in crisis counseling, to critical thinking and sound judgment, to empathy. At minimum, applicants must be U.S. residents with a high school diploma or the equivalent, and fluent in English. Excellent organizational, communication and computer skills are also required. Preference is given to nurses and other clinical staff, and to those who have worked in public health.
According to the CDC, requisite knowledge and skills for contact tracers include, but are not limited to:
*An understanding of patient confidentiality, including the ability to conduct interviews without violating confidentiality (e.g., to those who might overhear their conversations)
*Understanding of the medical terms and principles of exposure, infection, infectious period, potentially infectious interactions, symptoms of disease, pre-symptomatic and asymptomatic infection
*Excellent and sensitive interpersonal, cultural sensitivity, and interviewing skills such that they can build and maintain trust with patients and contacts
*Basic skills of crisis counseling, and the ability to confidently refer patients and contacts for further care if needed
*Resourcefulness in locating patients and contacts who may be difficult to reach or reluctant to engage in conversation
*Understanding of when to refer individuals or situations to medical, social, or supervisory resources
*Cultural competency appropriate to the local community
How to apply to become a contact tracer
Anyone interested in applying to become a contact tracer can do so through the Contrace website. The application contains 23 questions and typically takes less than five minutes to fill out. As of May 18, the New York Times reports that Contrace has received more than 50,000 applications over the past few weeks, primarily from women.