Army of contact tracers in California seek to stomp out coronavirus

Health experts say contact tracing is key to reopening California. Now the state is ramping up a program to stomp out COVID-19.
LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- The state is ramping up a program to identify people who are potentially exposed to the novel coronavirus but are unaware of it.

On Wednesday, 3,000 employees of the California Department of Public Health began their training as disease detectives.

They are learning how to backtrack the steps of a newly infected person and reach out to everyone that person potentially exposed. From close contacts such as roommates, to huge crowds if the infected person happened to join the throngs at the beach.

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The contact tracers would request that the contacts quarantine for 14 days and watch for symptoms.

The first person infected in California illustrates how many people could be impacted. She had not been traveling and had not associated with anyone who had.

The tracers questioned medical personnel who treated her and family members. They learned that the single infected person exposed 300 others. Of those, four people tested positive, including three health care workers.

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UC San Francisco formulated the model the state will use. It is designed as a basic "how to" for registering new contacts, identifying who is at high risk, who might be getting sick and who to tell to stay at home.

"It allows us to reach out daily by automated text to give people a way to let us know if they have developed any symptoms and to let us know right away," said Dr. Susan Philip, Director of Disease Prevention and Control with the San Francisco County Department of Public Health.

The state is banking on technology to help. The disease detectives will be able to work remotely, reaching contacts by phone call or text.

Training is on a fast track. The entire class will take 20 hours.
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