To combat the rise in coronavirus cases in California, there needs to be enough contact tracing staff in regions where Covid-19 infections are increasing, the principal investigator for the state’s contact tracing program told CNN, but not all regions require an equal number of tracers.
“They’re not, in their current level, they’re not in all places,” said University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) epidemiologist Dr. George Rutherford, who also leads the university’s contact tracing training program. “If we spread it evenly there still probably wouldn't be enough in the highest incidence areas.”
Health officials, he said, cannot forecast how much contact tracing is needed in a region until public health departments are alerted to positive results, but the teams are scalable. “We can call in extra people if there's a surge,” Rutherford said.
With 58 counties in the state, the number of contact tracers working in each county should be driven by the number of confirmed cases, not the county’s total population, he said.
“If you're in Modoc County, with zero cases, you don't need a big contact tracing team,” he said, adding that a regional approach in some parts of the state may be sufficient to cover areas without a lot of cases. “Six people could cover, you know, seven or eight counties.”
UCSF, with the assistance of the University of California, Los Angeles, operates a Virtual Training Academy for contract tracers and is working with the state to bolster its personnel who can follow up with people who have been in contact with someone who has tested positive for the virus.
Of the army of 10,000 contact tracers California has assembled in response to the pandemic, the academy has trained 6,700 people so far, he said. As potential tracers are identified by the state, they are quickly processed and begin training, which takes about a week.
And as the number of confirmed cases rises, so perhaps does the need for more contact tracers, who are making phone calls to reach those infected with the virus.
“Last weekend with its rush of cases in San Francisco, people were working overtime,” he said. “It was a major sweat to get it all covered, but we got it covered.”