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State Health Department prepares more contact tracers

PHOTO: Manual extraction of coronavirus inside an extraction lab, Photo Date: 3/6/2020 (Source: Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf / CC BY 2.0)
PHOTO: Manual extraction of coronavirus inside an extraction lab, Photo Date: 3/6/2020 (Source: Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf / CC BY 2.0)(KMVT)
Published: May. 4, 2020 at 7:37 PM CDT
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They are the people who figure out where a COVID-19 patient has been and who that person has been in contact with. Now hundreds of newly trained contact tracers are set to be deployed as needed.

It starts with testing.

TestNebraska started today and that takes three steps to be successful: assess, test, and then track those who test positive. Health departments are preparing for an influx of cases.

As more and more COVID cases are confirmed, health departments have had to pull additional resources from other departments to make sure contact tracing is done immediately.

The governor wants 1,000 additional people deployed through Nebraska to decrease the curve. This week more than 200 people will be the first sent out to help.

“We will not be going in just to do the surveillance or the contact tracing but we will be embedded in the Health Department because we see our role as one of helping the Health Department,” said Dannette Smith, CEO of the DePartment of Health and Human Services

In Douglas County they’ve tripled the number of tracers, retraining people who typically work in the STD clinic or environmental health.

“It’s best to get people that have some background knowledge, to begin with, you really can’t get somebody’s trust or rapport with them if you really don’t sound like you know what you’re talking about,” said said Ann O’Keefe, senior epidemiologist as the Douglas County Health Department.

Douglas County isn’t on the list of first recipients for state help and they say so far it’s been manageable. But they assume once TestNebraska is in full swing they’ll need to explore using outside help.

“We don’t know what to expect. But we do know that we are assuming will be expected to investigate all those cases and do the contact tracing so we’re just kind of bracing for that we don’t really know what’s going to happen but will be ready for,” said O’Keefe.

Some of the first places getting help this week are Hastings, Norfolk, Dakota County, Kearney, and Fremont.

The State Health Department had stressed contact tracing is vital to slowing the spread.

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