Not since AIDS swept across America in the ‘80s have we had such an overwhelming need to track back and trace where infections have originated to ascertain how many people may have been infected from an initial source. Welcome to the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, which has blazed across the world like a wildfire out of control, catching public health officials completely off guard.
“We lost our ability in the first wave of this virus to do any contact tracing because numbers were just coming too fast,” said Dr. Susan Hassig, associate professor of epidemiology at Tulane University’s School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine. “In order to interview the people who have just tested positive, you need to have people designated for this sort of field work.”
Public health experts say that, along with extensive testing, the ability to do mass contact tracing will be key to reopening the economy while minimizing the risk of new waves of infections. The White House’s guidelines for reopening the country, released last week, identify contact tracing as a “core state preparedness responsibility.”
“Currently, Massachusetts and California are actively looking for people to do this work in anticipation of what could easily be a second wave of infections, if we begin to open up the country before we have adequate testing to know who’s infectious. To be safe, this sort of organizing needs to take place across all 50 states,” Hassig said.