Arkansas Department of Health looking to double the amount of contact tracers

Gov. Hutchinson announced Wednesday the Arkansas Department of Health will be doubling the number of contact tracers for a total of more than 700.

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Governor Asa Hutchinson announced Wednesday the Arkansas Department of Health will be doubling the number of contact tracers for a total of more than 700 for a cost of $22 million.

“There’s training that they go through but we want people who are good communicators with other people. Comfortable communicating because we’re asking personal information,” Dr. Jennifer Dillaha said.

Dr. Dillaha with the health department said contact tracers are crucial as the state continues to see a surge in cases.

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How does a contact tracer know who to contact when someone tests positive for COVID-19?

“We define a close contact as someone who’s been within six feet for at least 15 minutes. Those are the people at highest risk for getting infected,” Dr. Dillaha said.

On average, for every case, there’s about three people who are contacted. These people are usually someone you live with, coworkers or people you were with in a social setting, like at church or at a bar.

“Passing someone in an aisle or a hallway is not sufficient exposure to transmit the virus,” Dr. Dillaha said.

How does ADH make sure that the people it is contacting are self quarantining for 14 days?

“A lot of it is based on trust, and if we get reports if someone is not and they need to, then we can take steps and we have taken steps at times when people refuse to quarantine and we have issued them legal orders legally requiring them to do so,” Dr. Dillaha said.

Defying this order could result in fines, but the health department has not issued any during this pandemic so far. The Arkansas Department of Health has the legal authority to require people to isolate if they are a case or to quarantine if they’ve been exposed.

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“The contact tracers stay in touch with the contacts. They enroll the contacts into a system that automatically contacts them every day to see if they developed symptoms,” Dr. Dillaha said.

People who test positive for COVID-19 will first be contacted by a nurse who interviews them about their symptoms and when their symptoms began. Then they are asked about where they might have been, their household, where they work and if they’ve been to social gatherings. 

The contact tracer will then contact all of the people that have been exposed to that case, informs them about the exposure, and then gives them instructions about what they need to do to quarantine.

“[The contact tracers] are very knowledgeable about the illnesses that they are working with and they’re very good at working with people who may have discomfort in talking to health professionals,” Dr. Dillaha said.

Contact tracers are not always healthcare professionals as well.