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Contact Tracing

The United States has more than 50,000 contact tracers for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic hit, according to a survey of states conducted by the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security in collaboration with NPR.

Contact tracing has been one of the key tools in the fight against the coronavirus. Now, as the virus has infected more than 5 million Americans, the U.S. has at least 41,122 contact tracers — but that's not even half what public health experts said would be needed to help contain the spread.

The United States needs as many as 100,000 contact tracers to fight the pandemic, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told Congress in June. We need billions of dollars to fund them, public health leaders pleaded in April.

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, contact tracing is downright buzzy, and not always in a good way.

Contact tracing is the public health practice of informing people when they've been exposed to a contagious disease. As it has become more widely employed across the U.S., it has also become mired in modern political polarization and conspiracy theories.

An NPR survey of state health departments shows that the national coronavirus contact tracing workforce has tripled in the past six weeks, from 11,142 workers to 37,110. Yet given their current case counts, only seven states and the District of Columbia are staffed to the level that public health researchers say is needed to contain outbreaks.

reuters.com

The Ohio Senate has rejected an Ohio House bill requiring people with COVID-19 give consent to contact tracing in writing. 

During her 17 years running Okanogan County's small public health department in eastern Washington, Lauri Jones rarely encountered any controversy.

"Usually, we kind of sit here under the radar," says Jones, whose department before the pandemic was mostly known for mundane duties such as recording births, issuing permits for septic tanks, and investigating reports of food poisoning.

States around the country are gradually reopening their economies, even as most of them fail to meet voluntary guidelines set by the White House for doing it safely.

At least 31 states are partially reopening as of Monday.