By Vin Gopal, Eric Houghtaling and Joann Downey
Contact tracing is a proven method of giving you the information you need to protect yourself and your family and it is a key element of the state’s plan to stop the spread of COVID-19 and reopen the economy.
This country has used contact tracers as an important part of stopping the spread of infectious diseases since the 1930s. You may remember hearing about contract tracing when it was successfully used to help stop the spread of the Ebola epidemic in West Africa in 2014. Health experts say that contact tracing when combined with testing is the most effective way of slowing the spread of the virus until there is a vaccine or a proven treatment.
Researchers in the U.K. found that combining isolation with manual contact tracing during the COVID-19 pandemic reduced the spread of the virus by 61 percent. So, we decided to take a deeper look at contact tracing to help Monmouth County residents decide whether they want to be part of this effort to break the transmission chain of the coronavirus. Here’s how it works.
When a person tests positive for COVID-19, the lab that tested them loads their test results onto the state’s secure epidemiological system. The state shares that information with the infected person’s local health department, which calls that person to determine their close contacts – people who were within six feet of an infected person for at least 15 minutes, starting two days before the infected person began experiencing symptoms.
That’s when a contact tracer gets involved, reaching out to as many of an infected person’s close contacts as possible. The information you give a contact tracer is confidential. Both you and the person you came in contact with will remain anonymous. If a contact tracer calls you, they are calling to arm you with the knowledge and information that will empower you to make best decisions of how to yourself and your family. They can help with information about the virus, its symptoms and how to voluntarily self-quarantine.
Governor Phil Murphy has said he wants to build contact tracing teams that are “as local, as diverse, as representative of the folks that they’re phoning up or contacting,” and the state needs at least 1,000 more people and may need as many as 5,000 as testing increases and new cases of COVID-19 are detected.
If you’ve ever thought about being a detective, you may want to consider applying for a job as a contact tracer with the state Community Contact Tracing Corps and be part of the effort to stop the spread of COVID-19 in your community while helping speed up the reopening of our state’s economy.
Contact tracer jobs pay $20 to $25 an hour. If you want to learn more about becoming a contact tracer and playing an important role in protecting your community from the spread of COVID-19, you can visit the state’s COVID-19 Information Hub at covid19.nj.gov/forms/tracer to fill out a Contact Tracer Interest Registration. You can request a part-time or full-time position, or offer to volunteer. Tracers work between the hours of 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. seven days a week, but no one will work more than 35 hours per week. The state provides free online training.
You also can find information about contact tracing and other resources for getting through the COVID-19 pandemic on our new website, LD11Recovery.com, which we created as a tool to specifically help residents of our 11th Legislative District. If you live in one of our Legislative District 11 towns and are looking for assistance with other government programs or agencies, please submit a constituent services request form at tinyurl.com/LD11Help and a member of our staff will contact you as soon as possible.
The state plans to increase testing to 20,000 people a day by the end of this month and to 25,000 by the end of June. Increased testing will raise the demand for contact tracers. You can play an important role in stemming the spread of the virus and moving our state closer to reopening by getting yourself tested and cooperating with the Community Contact Tracing Corps if they call.