Washington Gov. Jay Inslee puts on his face mask after speaking to the media Wednesday, in Tumwater, about the state’s effort at contact tracing amid the coronavirus pandemic. (Steve Ringman/The Seattle Times via AP, Pool)

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee puts on his face mask after speaking to the media Wednesday, in Tumwater, about the state’s effort at contact tracing amid the coronavirus pandemic. (Steve Ringman/The Seattle Times via AP, Pool)

Washington contact tracers making calls to help fight virus

People notified of their potential exposure will not be told the name of the infected person.

Associated Press

SEATTLE — Washington has trained more than 2,100 people to work as contact tracers during the coronavirus outbreak, people who will call every person who tests positive for COVID-19 to find out who they have had close contact with.

They then call the contacts to urge them to get tested and quarantine for 14 days, seeking to stop the spread of the virus.

About 630 employees of local and state health departments are working on the assignment, The Seattle Times reported. The state has also trained 723 members of the National Guard and 769 employees of the state Department of Licensing to help out.

“Case investigations and contact tracing are key pieces of the effort to keep Washington residents safe,” state Health Secretary John Wiesman said. “Both have been critical tools to suppress the virus in other parts of the world.”

Of the more than 2,100 trained contact tracers, about 700 are currently active, the Health Department said. Local officials are spread around the state, while about 50 National Guard personnel are making calls at well-spaced work stations from that Health Department office building.

The goal, which the state has not yet reached, is to contact each person who tests positive within 24 hours, and call each of their close contacts within 48 hours. Tracers will not tell the contacts who the infected person is or who gave the tracer their phone number. Officials stress the entire process is voluntary.

“We do try to influence people in positive ways to participate in public health interventions, but if they don’t want to talk to us, that’s their prerogative,” Maria Courogen, the state’s branch director for disease contamination said.

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