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Building an “Army of Disease Detectives” to Trace COVID-19 Contacts

Educational Objective
To understand what is required to properly trace COVID-19 contacts
1 Credit CME

As state and local governments deliberate how and when to get back to business, much discussion has centered around contact tracing to rein in coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).

Health departments have used contact tracing—the practice of identifying and monitoring people who’ve had close contact with infected individuals—to control communicable diseases such as tuberculosis, syphilis, and HIV infection. But, in terms of the sheer number of cases and the ease with which it spreads, COVID-19 presents special challenges.

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As state and local governments deliberate how and when to get back to business, much discussion has centered around contact tracing to rein in coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).

Health departments have used contact tracing—the practice of identifying and monitoring people who’ve had close contact with infected individuals—to control communicable diseases such as tuberculosis, syphilis, and HIV infection. But, in terms of the sheer number of cases and the ease with which it spreads, COVID-19 presents special challenges.

“The scale of this infectious disease outbreak is far beyond anything we’ve seen since HIV,” said Marcus Plescia, MD, MPH, chief medical officer for the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO). “It takes a much bigger workforce to be able to manage that than what we’ve had in place.” In addition, he said, “the public workforce has eroded over the last 2 decades,” although even at full strength, it still wouldn’t have been big enough.

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