South Sound contact tracers prepared for rise in COVID-19 cases

VIDEO: Pierce Co. says its contact tracers are prepared for rising COVID-19 cases

TACOMA, Wash. — Officials with Pierce County said its contact tracers are prepared for a rising number of coronavirus cases.

Contact tracers are tasked with calling people within 24 hours of them testing positive and helping them to isolate and quarantine.

KIRO 7 got a chance to speak with some contact tracers who said it is their job to make people feel comfortable.

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“Whenever you do your daily checks -ins, if your fever’s continuing, just please let us know so we can let you know if you need to isolate a little longer,” a contact tracer said to a caller.

Pierce County officials said hiring for contact tracers hasn’t stopped and that the county has a surge plan in place.

“We bring on new staff every few weeks,” said Kerra Gallagher, who is with the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department. Gallagher trains contact tracers.

Gov. Jay Inslee has stressed that contact tracers are key to our state’s reopening plan.

“If they ask you to isolate, we need you to isolate,” Inslee said during a state briefing.

If a person can’t isolate at home, contact tracers will tell them where they can go. They even use an automated system to check with a person in isolation daily.

“Whenever you get over 500 people that you’re checking in on each day to see if their symptoms are worsened or if they have a need for wraparound services, that can get pretty difficult,” Gallagher said.

Getting people to isolate or quarantine is not always easy, said David Carr, a case and contact investigator. “You get some resistance, but most the people are forthcoming.”

“It is necessary to prevent the spread of COVID and to open safely,” Carr said.

However, Pierce County told KIRO 7 that its contact tracers are largely meeting their key bench marks.

“We have been keeping up very well. We have been meeting the 24-hour standard. I think it’s been above 90% for contact tracing cases initially,” Gallagher said.

Although the health department told us they have enough contact tracers to handle the current workload, its long-term plan includes up to 200 cases and contact investigators, which will be critical if cases surge.