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How to Become a Contact Tracer in the Age of COVID-19

How to Become a Contact Tracer in the Age of COVID-19

Have you ever wanted a work from home job that benefits humankind as much as it benefits you – a job with the chance to save someone’s life?  

If so, then remote contact tracing could be the job for you.

Since of the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, remote contact tracers have saved countless lives by helping to limit the spread of this dangerous virus. But contact tracing has been around for decades, combating infectious diseases like measles, smallpox, and HIV.

What is Contact Tracing?

Contact tracing is the process of identifying and informing people who may have been exposed to an infectious disease and their recent close contacts.  It is the responsibility of a contact tracer to make those notifications.

Often working from home to protect themselves from infection, contact tracers also provide information and support to help protect those at risk.

In the age of COVID-19, contact tracing is a matter of life and death.

Contact tracing is noble and important work, and as you might expect the demand for contact tracers is high. According to the American Medical Association, the U.S. will need to add an additional 100,000 contact tracer jobs to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.

President Elect Joe Biden plans to meet that need by establishing a U.S. Public Health Jobs Corps to hire contact tracers around the country.

If you are ready to get started on a career in this booming field, you can apply for contact tracing jobs here.

If you want to learn more about becoming a contact tracer, read on! This comprehensive guide will answer the most frequently asked questions.

What Does a Contact Tracer Do Exactly?

A contact tracer will often start by calling a person who has tested positive. In the case of COVID-19, some clients will have already been informed of their test results or received treatment.

Time is of the essence when it comes to a potentially deadly disease like COVID-19. The goal is to make contact within 24 hours. That’s usually done by phone text or email.

A person with a positive test result will be advised to self-isolate and monitor their symptoms. The contact tracer will also instruct the client to seek medical attention immediately if certain warning symptoms emerge.

Using an interview script, the contact tracer will gather information about their whereabouts and recent close contacts.  Contact tracers will then contact the people who may have been exposed and inform them that they may be at risk.

The contact tracer will provide actionable steps to take if a person has been in close contact with an infected person. Those steps may include testing, quarantine and symptom monitoring.

In addition, contact tracers may recommend treatment or counseling, provide support information, and educate people about social distancing and the use of masks to prevent further infection.

Easing the Stress of a Positive Diagnosis

Understandably, people may become upset or emotional when they hear from a contact tracer. The call may be unexpected, unwelcome, and scary. It is up to the contact tracer to steer their emotions to a productive, helpful, and rational place.

Therefore, a contact tracer must remain calm, composed, professional and empathetic.

It is essential for a contact tracer to build trust and establish an open channel for communication. The more authentic and personable you are, the more people will open up to you about the details of their case and answer questions about their health and their recent contacts.

If all this sounds overwhelming, remember that you will receive training on how to deliver this information. Along the way, you will learn how to respect patient privacy and how to use discretion when dealing with confidential information.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has developed detailed procedures to help state and local health officials to implement contact tracing programs.

Contact Tracing Job Responsibilities 

The role of the contact tracer is centered around the following foundational responsibilities:

  • Identifying those who may have been exposed through investigative questions and research
  • Investigating contacts and whereabouts
  • Asking an infected person about their close contacts before diagnosis
  • Being culturally-aware 
  • Reaching out to the sick or infected
  • Analyzing data to find connections that can lead one to the assigned contacts
  • Diffusing high-stress situations
  • Supporting suspected and confirmed patients
  • Educating the patients to prevent additional infections
  • Protecting patient privacy
  • Acting with discretion
  • Conducting yourself in a professional manner

Is Contact Tracing Right for You?

Contact tracing takes some detective work and persistence along with a combination of hard and soft skills. If you can answer yes these questions, you could be a natural for the job:

  • Are you inquisitive?
  • Are you detail-oriented?
  • Do you enjoy talking to people?
  • Are you an effective communicator?
  • Are you comfortable delivering bad news?
  • Do you enjoy helping people to feel safe in an unpredictable time?
  • Are you a natural counselor that is able to guide, advise, and listen?
  • Are you able to work from home, or desire a remote job?

What are the Qualifications to be a Contact Tracer?

While previous experience is desirable, you don’t need a background in medicine or healthcare to be a contact tracer. You will receive training once you are hired.

A college degree, or experience in public health or research may be required for some positions.  But most often, a high school diploma is the minimum requirement.

People who are good communicators do well as contact tracers.  You will find the most success if you can:

  • Understand medical terminology
  • Convey complex medical terms in a way that's easy to understand
  • Actively listen
  • Be empathetic
  • Analyze data
  • Build rapport quickly
  • Instill confidence
  • Ask the right questions
  • Interview well
  • Cold-call people
  • Build relationships
  • Embrace cultural humility and be religiously sensitive

What Soft Skills Do You Need to Be a Contact Tracer?

You may be a good candidate for a contact tracing job if you are:

  • Adaptable
  • Calm
  • Caring
  • Communicative
  • Consistent
  • A Critical Thinker
  • Dependable
  • Direct
  • Discreet
  • Efficient
  • Emotionally-Intelligent
  • Empathetic
  • Flexibility
  • Helpful
  • Inquisitive
  • Investigative
  • Level-headed
  • Outgoing
  • A People-Person
  • Reliable
  • Resourceful
  • Respectful of Diversity
  • Sensitive
  • Sincere
  • Socially-Aware
  • Straight-forward
  • A Strong Listener
  • Thorough
  • Thoughtful
  • Trustworthy

Who Hires Contact Tracers?

Contact tracers are usually hired by:

  • Federal Agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
  • Local Governments
  • State, County and City Health Departments
  • University Health Systems and Medical Schools
  • Healthcare Organizations such as Hospitals and Medical Centers
  • Research Organizations such as Contrace and NORC at the University of Chicago

Contact tracers are also hired by private companies that work on the behalf of these organizations.

Maximus is one of the biggest companies assisting state health departments with contact tracing. The company says it has hired, trained and deployed remote contract tracers to support programs in Indiana, Florida, Kentucky, and Pima County, Arizona and Missouri.

How Much Does Contact Tracing Pay?

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the demand for contact tracers is high, so contact tracers are often well-paid.

Contact tracer pay can vary widely, depending on the location, the hiring organization and the job requirements.  Compensation ranges from $17 to $38 per hour to $65,000 a year for full-time positions in metropolitan areas like New York City. An NYC contact tracer salary is $57,000 to $65,000 a year, depending on qualifications.

If you are lucky enough to land a full-time position, you may be eligible for benefits, including healthcare, dental coverage, and 401(K) retirement.

Management and supervisory positions can pay more, but these positions usually require experience in healthcare, epidemiology or infectious disease.

What Kind of Training Do You Need to Become a Contact Tracer?

In most cases, you will receive contact tracing training from the state or local health department that hires you. Or you may be directed to a training course provided by the federal government, a university or a medical school.

You can receive contact tracing training in a variety of ways. Training resources are available through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, and The Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO).

The CDC training is a fast-track program tailored for remote contact tracers. It’s intended to be used by local health departments to get contact tracers on the job quickly. Local jurisdictions then provide additional training as needed.

The Johns Hopkins contact tracing course is free to the general public, and there is paid version of the course for those who want certification.  It takes about six hours to complete the course, and then you have to pass a test for certification.

In the Johns Hopkins course, you will learn about:

  • The history and symptoms of COVID-19 and how it is transmitted
  • How to conduct case investigation, identify common barriers and overcome them
  • How to define a contact and the timeline for intervention
  • The ethical considerations around contact tracing, isolation and quarantine

After successfully completing the paid course, you will receive a downloadable certificate.

Higher Education Training

Universities and medical schools are also providing training. In Texas, one of the states hit hardest by COVID-19, the University of Houston is offering a 12-hour online course that is completely free and open to the public.

In California, UC San Francisco is partnering with the state health department to provide training to new contact tracers.  This online course is a 20-hour program with modules focusing on epidemiology and infectious disease.

You can prepare yourself in advance and get a leg up in the hiring process by taking one of these courses or obtaining certification. With credentials from the CDC, Johns Hopkins, or an accredited institution, your resume will stand out from the crowd.

Working from Home as a Contact Tracer

The nature of contact tracing makes it a perfect work from home job. Contact tracing can offer a lot of flexibility for working mothers, and those who prefer to work remotely.  In the age of COVID-19, many contact tracing positions are designed to be performed from home to prevent infections and protect contact tracers.

Contact tracers can be effective from home with a phone and a good computer. You may be using contact tracing software to help manage cases and generate push alerts and notifications.

You will need to have a stable and secure internet connection with sufficient bandwidth. That’s especially important when using teleconferencing software like ZOOM, Skype, or FaceTime.

For more tips on working from home, you'll find lots of resources on MotherWorks.

Where Do You Find Contact Tracing Jobs?

A good strategy for finding a remote contact tracing job is to identify state and local health departments that are hiring.

You can find contact tracing jobs here on MotherWorks.

You can also do a web search for contact tracer jobs by state, city or county to find open positions.

Another organization accepting applications is the Contrace Public Health Corps. Contrace pre-screens applicants and provides the information to organizations that are actively hiring contact tracers. The downside of this resource is that Contrace does not respond to questions about the status of your application.

Where is Contact Tracing Needed Most?

The demand for contact tracers is greatest in the states with the most cases, deaths and hospitalizations due to the COVID-19 pandemic. If you are looking for a remote contact tracer jobs, this is a good place to start.  

As you might expect, there is an urgent need to fill contact tracer jobs in Illinois, Florida, California and Texas.

States with the Most COVID-19 Cases (Since the start of the pandemic)

  1. Texas
  2. California
  3. Florida
  4. Illinois
  5. New York

States with the Most COVID-19 Deaths (Since the start of the pandemic)

  1. New York
  2. Texas
  3. California
  4. Florida
  5. New Jersey

Contact tracing is underway in nearly every state, but some states are more proactive than others when it comes to hiring for contact tracer jobs. In New Jersey for example, the state plans to keep hiring until every county has 15 contact tracers per 100,000 residents. Then the state will seek to double that.  

The state of Maryland is hiring hundreds of contact tracers with the help of NORC at the University of Chicago, a nonpartisan research organization. Contact tracer jobs in Maryland and other states are listed on the NORC website.

The Need for Contact Tracers Changes

The infection rate across the United States changes over time, and that can affect the urgency to hire contact tracers in a particular city or region. You should keep that in mind when searching for contact tracing positions.

For example, cases and deaths in New York City and New York State were the highest in the country early in the pandemic but are now low by comparison. Conversely, the number of cases in Texas were low early on, but later Texas lead the country in cases.

You can keep an eye on news reports do determine where COVID-19 cases are spiking and where health departments are hiring the most contact tracers.

What Does the Future Hold for Contact Tracers?

We all hope that vaccines will eventually reduce the demand for contact tracers, but that is not likely to happen in the near future. COVID-19, and its ramifications will have to be dealt with, measured and analyzed for years to come.

Maryland is one of several states adopting the use of a contact tracing app that alerts users if they have been exposed to a person with COVID-19. The cell phone app, called MD COVID Alert, will monitor symptoms, offers testing information, and provides a way for contact tracers to call if the person's name comes in a tracing investigation. It does this without identifying people or collecting personal data.

One thing for sure is the COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated how important contact tracers are for public health and well-being.

By becoming a contact tracer, you will feel a great sense of accomplishment by contributing a service that is for the greater good of humanity at a time when help is needed most.