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Public Health Workers

Last week, Idaho's Ada County Commissioner Diana Lachiondo interrupted a district health board meeting tearfully.

"My 12-year-old son is home by himself right now, and there are protesters banging outside the door. I'm going to go home and make sure he's OK," she said before disappearing from the Zoom meeting.

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.

SOUTH CAROLINA DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND ENVIRONMENTAL CONTROL

South Carolina’s public health director appeared to be on her way to a new job in Ohio before abruptly withdrawing, saying a day later she was concerned because the previous director’s family was harassed including protests at her home.

Joan Duwve said she isn’t returning to her job in South Carolina either.

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.

"I will kill you."

That's what a family member of a COVID-19 patient told a general practitioner at a private hospital in Aden, Yemen, amid the country's coronavirus outbreak in April.

Pointing a gun at the doctor, the family member pushed him to put the patient on oxygen and mechanical ventilation, two types of treatments for severe cases of COVID-19.

The doctor explained that he wouldn't be able to provide those options for the patient.

President Trump again referred to COVID-19 as the “Kung flu” in Arizona on Tuesday night. 

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.

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.