The demand for contact tracers has increased along with more positive test results for COVID-19, and officials in central Indiana are stepping up hiring.
Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis announced Thursday it would hire 300 contact tracers in the city before the end of the year to track the spread of the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
The Allen County Health Department is working with contact tracers to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, but has hired fewer than 10 so far, a spokeswoman said Thursday.
IUPUI received a $10.5 million grant for the effort from the Indianapolis City-County Council as part of the nearly $80 million in funds allocated to help individuals affected by the virus.
Contact tracing is the process of tracking an infected individual's activities to stop a potential outbreak. It usually involves contacting an infected individual and asking who they have recently interacted with. A contact tracer then tries to reach those individuals to alert them that they may also be infected and advise them to quarantine.
Marion County, which includes Indianapolis, has been a hotspot for COVID-19, with 13,245 total confirmed cases and 711 total deaths as of Thursday, according to marionhealth.org.
So far, there is no approved vaccine for coronavirus.
Indiana had 59,602 confirmed cases of COVID-19 as of Wednesday, and 2,683 deaths, according to information updated on Thursday in the IN.gov COVID-19 Data Report. The governor on Thursday was scheduled to sign a mask mandate, three weeks after he announced a “Mask Up” campaign to encourage facial coverings to reduce the risk for rising infections.
“Contact tracing is important to slowing the spread of disease and lessening its impact on the entire community all at once,” said Erika Pitcher, director of community health and case management services for the Allen County Department of Health.
“It allows us to ensure positive cases are staying in isolation until it is safe for them to return to public. It is also important because it allows us to identify those most at-risk for becoming ill with COVID-19, place them in a 14-day quarantine, and reduces the amount of exposures from those positive cases,” Pitcher said through email.
Allen County hired seven contact tracers for its nearly 379,300 residents.
The National Association of County and City Health Officials recommends 30 contact tracers for every 100,000 citizens, meaning Allen County would need more than 90 tracers to meet the requirement.
Megan Hubartt, director of communications for the Allen County Health Department, said the health department is understaffed but does not have the capabilities to meet the ideal requirement of 30 tracers per 100,000 people.
The local contact tracing team, however, has had a high success rate in containing potential outbreaks, she said.