States Are Short the Contact Tracers Needed to Emerge Safely from Lockdowns

Gene Naumovsky

While reports of necessary contact tracers numbers differ, states reopen with minimal tracer numbers.

While experts cite contact tracing as a necessary component of pushing past the coronavirus pandemic, U.S. states don’t appear to have sufficient staffing to fulfill the process, according to the Wall Street Journal.

As states continue to lack effective contact tracing plans, epidemiologists warn of a continued spread of the novel coronavirus. Now, as protests, incited by the tragic killing of George Floyd in police custody, hit every state in the U.S., those worries are only growing. Robert Redfield, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director, told Congress that the nation requires between 30,000 and 100,000 contact tracers. Former CDC director, Dr. Tom Frieden, stated that the U.S. might need up to 300,000 tracers.

Director of the CDC’s Scientific Education and Professional Development division, Dr. Patricia Simone said, “All the states need contact tracers...some in quite large numbers.”

Another issue is that the estimates of needed tracers are changing every day. While the National Association of County and City Health Officials report that 30 contact tracers per 100,000 would be required for risk management (as well as to match Wuhan’s numbers), the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials stated that up to 300,000 would be necessary.

At the moment, states are reopening with a small percentage of those figures. In addition, many state public-health departments have suffered funding cuts over the last few years. While Scott Gottlieb, former Food and Drug Administration commissioner in the Trump administration, asked for $46.5 billion in funding for contact tracing, only $10.25 billion has been collected for both testing and contact tracing by the FDA.

Senior scholar at Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security, Crystal Watson said, “We need to reprioritize and put this at the top of the list because we can bring transmission down to much lower levels and save thousands of lives.”

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