Governor Jay Inslee said Tuesday that Washington has nearly 1,400 trained contact-tracing personnel who are now reaching out to every new person who tests positive for coronavirus, in an effort to track down other people they may have infected.
Inslee said the team is an essential part of a three-pronged approach to locking down the virus: broad-based testing, isolation and contact tracing.
This is how it works: When a person tests positive, they will be called by a designated contact tracer, he said. The tracer will ask where the person has been and with whom they’ve been in contact. They’ll then call those people — ideally within two days — telling each person they’ve been in contact with someone who tested positive for novel coronavirus and then ask them to self-quarantine until they can be tested themselves — and hopefully test negative.
“It is supremely important to our ability to reopen our economy and our businesses while simultaneously protecting our health,” Inslee said.
Washington state will have 1,371 trained contact tracers — 630 local and state Department of Health officials, 390 from the state Department of Licensing and 351 from the National Guard.
Inslee said he was confident this number of contact tracers was sufficient. The DOH reports 200 to 300 new cases each day, which has been consistent for the past several weeks.
Inslee explained this is standard operating procedure for local health departments for many decades, as they’ve tried to tamp down outbreaks of diseases like tuberculosis and hepatitis, but “on a much grander scale.”
Contact tracing at the county level became too daunting of a task for local jurisdictions, and this is why the state is adding so many personnel to complete the task at hand.
Inslee urged Washingtonians to isolate at the first sign of symptoms and said people who do test positive should stay isolated for 14 days, as should their families.
The governor said that someone will check in daily on people who have tested positive and are quarantining, either by phone or by text.
“We have to depend upon the sense of commitment and compassion that Washingtonians have to make this work,” Inslee said.
He said contact tracers have been carefully screened and have signed confidentiality agreements. They’re not supposed to inquire about immigration status, Social Security numbers or marital status.