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How is the State tracing so many contacts?
As testing of individuals for COVID-19 increases, so does the need for contact tracers to conduct interviews with individuals who may have come into contact with those who tested positive. It is estimated that at least 1,000 and as many as 5,000 contact tracers may be needed in New Jersey.
To meet this need and expand on the existing group of 800-900 contact tracers, the State is developing a Community Contact Tracing Corps with a two-stage approach:
- Partnering with the State's higher education institutions to train public health graduate students and alumni to engage in contact tracing activities in their home communities. In partnership with Rutgers University, led by their School of Public Health and including the School of Health Professions, School of Nursing, School of Social Work, and Graduate School of Applied and Professional Psychology, we will launch the corps and create several hundred jobs. We will also be expanding the effort to include other colleges and universities throughout the state.
- In June, the State issued a Request for Quotes (RFQ) to solicit proposals from vendors, organizations, and institutions to help expand the Corps across the state. In late July, Public Consulting Group (PCG) was chosen to recruit, employ, and manage contact tracers who can be deployed to areas with increasing COVID-19 cases. PCG will work to ensure that as many of these new contact tracers as possible come from and reflect the diversity of the communities they will be working in. All individuals will be required to complete the Contact Tracing training developed with Rutgers School of Public Health.
As of September 11, there are over 1,800 contact tracers working in the state, including existing local health department staff as well as newly trained contact tracers deployed locally. The State's newest contact tracers come from every one of our 21 counties and speak nearly two-dozen languages.
Across the state, there is an average of 19.9 contact tracers on-the-ground for every 100,000 residents as of September 4. More contact tracers will be added until every county has 15 contact tracers per 100,000 residents, and then the State will seek to double that.
For more on where contact tracers are working and the latest information on their efforts, visit the Department of Health's COVID-19 dashboard.
Meanwhile, in partnership with Dimagi, we will deploy their open source CommCare platform across New Jersey to centralize the State's contact tracing efforts.
Collecting information in a uniform way makes it easier for health officials to share information and to track the virus across New Jersey. When time is of the essence, we cannot lose any of it trying to work across different platforms. It will also ensure connectivity with contact tracers with our neighbors, including New York State and Philadelphia.
No one outside of our contact-tracing program will have access to CommCare, and all information is off-loaded after 45 days to the state's epidemiological database.
Above all, you are the key to our ability to stop the spread of COVID-19.
If you are called by a contact tracer, we need you to answer the phone so we can let you know about the risk to you and your family and provide you with information to protect your loved ones and your community.
You will be asked to share your close contacts. That information is used ONLY for the purpose of helping those people to get tested or to quarantine. Your information is confidential. Your name will not be released to your contacts or your COVID-19 status – that information will only be known to public health officials and our local health department partners, if needed.
Together, we can save lives and stop the spread of COVID-19.
Source: Governor's Remarks 5/12/20; https://nj.gov/governor/news/news/562020/approved/20200512a.shtml; Health Commissioner Persichilli's Remarks 7/24/20; Governor's Remarks 8/14/20; Governor's Remarks 9/11/20