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20,000 'disease detectives' to track, isolate, and perhaps quarantine California residents exposed to COVID-19, Gov. Newsom says

Nothing to see here, move along

Photo by: NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

California Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom said a plan is in place to deploy 20,000 "disease detectives" across the state to track, isolate, and perhaps quarantine residents exposed to COVID-19, KPIX-TV reported.

What are the details?

Newsom said at a Tuesday press briefing that UCLA and UC San Francisco are providing a "virtual academy" to recruit and train individuals to build on the nearly 3,000 "disease detectives" already tracking and tracing people who've come in contact with residents who are COVID-19 positive, the station said.

The governor said 23 counties are presently tracking and tracing and keeping records on possible COVID-19 exposures and determining who should be isolated and/or quarantined, KPIX reported.

"This tracing that's happening includes a workforce of about 3,000 people today — 2,845 individuals to be exact — primarily conducted at the local level," Newsom said, according to the station, and that the online training academy is aiming to equip "upwards to 3,000 people a week to go through two phases ... 10,000 being our first-phase goal, 20,000 our second-phase goal. So on the high end getting about 20,000 people into this workforce … building off the existing base of 3,000."

'Ultimately, it's customer service'

In northern California recruits are redeployed civil servants and volunteers who will serve six- to 12-month-long stints that require skills ranging from "data entry and psychology to project management and crisis intervention," the Mercury News reported.

"Ultimately, it's customer service," Contra Costa County Public Health Director Daniel Peddycord told the paper. "We need people with critical thinking skills and empathy."

Bay Area health officers told the Mercury News that "disease detectives" are already catching silent infections.

"It's incredibly moving to hear all of the people in our community step forward and ask how they can help support these efforts," Dr. Nicholas Moss, acting director of Alameda County's Public Health Department, told the paper.

More from the Mercury News:

On laptops and phones, these experts seek to find everyone who has spent at least 10 minutes within six feet of a person who has tested positive for the virus — up to two days before that person felt sick.

Then they inform them of their risk, refer them to testing and urge them to stay isolated at home for 14 days.
Maybe it's someone who helped unpack boxes in a grocery aisle or shared a coffee break during a shift at the local hardware store. Perhaps they were part of a team that laid irrigation pipes or hung drywall. They may have cooked church dinner or bathed an elder.

A county's contact tracing squad — officially known as Case Investigators — gets a name and phone number for every person who has tested positive, either from their doctor or drive-through public site. During the call, the investigators ask where they have been and who they have been with in the days leading up to their illness.
The sleuthing then turns to potential contacts, narrowing down names and phone numbers.

The phone conversation, typically read from a script, starts formally: "You have been identified as a close contact to a person with a confirmed novel coronavirus infection," they say. "We would like to ask you some questions since we think you may have been exposed to the virus."

But it ends warmly, with offers of help — for food, housing, medicine, childcare, elder care or any other needs. The county also is available to provide symptom "checkups," via text, chat, email or phone.

"The responses range from tears to 'I'm glad I know,'" Peddycord told the paper. "Most people are grateful and reassured."

He added to the Mercury News that "it is a bit of 'hunt and peck' to get ahold of folks and who they've been around. That is the ugly nuts and bolts of this."

Peddycord told the paper his team will call three to five times, then deliver a letter — but people are under no legal requirement to disclose where they've been or who they've been with and that tracers won't disclose names. They also won't ask for immigration statuses, health coverages, social security numbers, or bank account information.

"First and foremost we want to protect privacy," Moss told the Mercury News. "The most important thing is to be able to build trust."

One last thing…
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