State, County trains more contact tracers in effort to contain virus

SPOKANE, Wash. – For Spokane County and many others still waiting to get to phase two, there are requirements that have to be met. In order to track the virus more efficiently, health officials say there need to be more contact tracers.

The path forward feels like it’s taking a long time, but slowly, it is happening.

The bigger picture may look the same, but the details are what matters.

“Part of our moving forward is having a very rigorous effort to identify the individuals who are infected,” said Dr. Bob Lutz, Spokane County’s health officer.

Health officials have to find those who may have crossed paths with those who tested positive to prevent the virus from spreading.

“Ensuring that those individuals who are infected stay isolated, stay self isolated,” Lutz said.

In a news conference Wednesday, Governor Jay Inslee says that if we had 200 new cases, the state would have enough people to do contact tracing.

Statewide, Washington now has nearly 1,500 newly trained people who can help; this includes the National Guard and Department of Licensing workers.

“We have to have successful contact tracing and isolation, it is the only way to be on top of this virus,” Inslee said.

For a county to be able to move to phase two, the health district must have a minimum of 15 contact tracers for every 100,000 population.

The Spokane Regional Health District says the number of required contact tracers needed for the county is 77. The health district has to show it has a plan in place to meet possible future demand. SRHD says it has 79 staff volunteers currently contact tracing or confirmed for training by mid June.

In Spokane County, contact tracers include health district workers and volunteers from UW, WSU and EWU.

The health district says it gets support from the Department of Health on the weekends, so it is possible for the Washington National Guard to help. However, the county does not have a big positive case load to receive National Guard help right now.

The state’s goal is to eventually be able to reach out to those infected within 24 hours, and figure out who they’ve been in contact with. Then, health officials hope to reach out to those in close contact within 48 hours.

READ: Debunking the myths of COVID-19 contact tracing

Both Inslee and Lutz reiterated that contact tracing will be confidential. The data taken will only be seen by health professionals. Close contacts will not know who exposed them, and those contact tracers will not be asking for immigration status or social security numbers.

Participation when a contact tracer calls is voluntary, but helpful for health officials.

For more information about contact tracing, visit the Department of Health’s website here.

RELATED: Gov. Inslee announces state’s contact tracing plan

RELATED: Spokane County can now apply for early advancement to phase 2 of reopening plan