COVID-19 contact tracers may lose critical help

State rapidly training personnel to help with contact tracing

WASHINGTON — “This is Ed Hawkins calling from the Washington State Department of Health,” said National Guard Sgt. Ed Hawkins, who demonstrated for us how he had been trained to call people who tested positive for COVID-19 in order to trace the other people who might have been exposed.

“You have to, you have to care. And having that empathic view and understanding and wanting to be put into that role is life-changing. It absolutely is life-changing,” said Hawkins.

Hawkins is one of more than 700 Guard members trained to help contain any COVID-19 outbreaks as the economy reopens.

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“We have to have a success of contact tracing and isolation. It is the only way to be on top of this virus. So failure is not an option here,” said Gov. Jay Inslee.

The governor met with Guard members this morning. Later, he told reporters that he’s working on help for families who need to quarantine for 14 days after exposure to the virus.

“We believe we will be able to add to my order that you cannot be fired from your job if you are in isolation. …We want to give families that protection. I think we will be able to accomplish that,” said Inslee.

With help from 700 other state workers, there are enough trackers to keep up with emerging cases as long as everyone keeps social distancing

“It is so important that people continue to keep their 6 feet of distance. They continue to keep their hygiene, and they continue to wear face coverings if they can’t maintain that 6 feet,” said Washington Health Secretary John Wiesman.

But Washington may lose the help of the National Guard. The Pentagon set deployments to end June 24, just a day before they would have qualified for retirement and education benefits.

“That’s heartbreaking; that’s heartbreaking,” said Sgt. Hawkins.

“We would hate to have to redo that training for a replacement 700 people. The guards are precious assets right now,” said Inslee.