CDC to Hire 650 Health Workers to Help States Trace, Contain CCP Virus

The agency is providing $45 million to expand its contact tracing efforts as the United States begins to reopen
April 23, 2020 Updated: April 23, 2020

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is providing $45 million to hire an additional 650 health workers across the United States to help states’ contract tracing efforts as the nation prepares to reopen and kick start the economy after the first wave of the CCP virus.

CDC director Robert Redfield said that the agency’s new strategy aims for early diagnosis to effectively contain the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, commonly known as the novel coronavirus.

“We are moving into a new phase in the battle against #COVID19 where we are trying to prevent any new outbreaks from occurring. We will do this with early diagnosis, isolation, and contact tracing,” Redfield said in an announcement.

“As we open up, we need to we reset our sights on what the primary strategy is to control this virus, and that’s got to be containment,” the CDC director told NPR in an interview late Tuesday. “And that means we need to have the diagnosis and testing capacity to make early diagnosis. And we need a public health workforce so that when that diagnosis occurs, they rapidly can isolate and contact trace around it and contain this virus.”

Contact tracing involves trying to identify within a certain time period every individual that has been exposed to a COVID-19 positive patient. The contacts would then be asked to self-isolate and monitor for symptoms for a period of time, and if they are symptomatic, they are tested for COVID-19, the disease caused by the CCP virus.

The additional health workers—to include nurses, microbiologists, lab technicians, epidemiologists, and others—will supplement the more than 600 CDC workers already in place and tracing contacts. The CDC will assign a regional director for each of 10 regions it has in mind, reported NPR.

The agency’s provision of $45 million will enable the CDC Foundation to cover the 650 new positions at state health departments across the country for up to a year.

Redfield told the news outlet that “community protection teams,” each comprising about four to six people, will help nine states that have faced a relatively lower number of CCP virus infections to remain that way.

The CDC also has teams in four other states to carry out various prevention measures such as making early warning systems to notify of outbreaks in vulnerable areas such as nursing homes, he said.

The agency has reached out to other organizations including the Census Bureau, the Peace Corps, and AmeriCorps to see whether they can provide some of the thousands of workers that will be needed to enhance the public health workforce in each state, NPR reported.

The United States has more than 839,000 cases of the CCP virus, and has confirmed more than 183,000 deaths.

Separately, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced a new contact tracing program on Wednesday for New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. Cuomo said that former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg will help coordinate the effort.

Contact tracing was performed extensively in the United States in the early days of the CCP virus but given less priority as the number of cases in the country rose significantly, indicating community spread, thus making contact-tracing efforts logistically more difficult.

The Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security on April 10 published a national plan to ensure comprehensive contact tracing across the country. In the document (pdf), the Center stated that a new pandemic management plan is needed to avoid a spike in cases of the virus as people return to work.

“A national effort to scale up and expand local, state, and territorial case investigation and management is necessary before US communities can begin to return to ‘normal,'” the report states. ” If we can find nearly every case, and trace the contacts of each case, it will be possible, in time, to relax the bluntest approaches: the extreme social distancing measures, such as stay at home orders, and realize the commensurate social and economic benefits.”

The report seeks to help public health officials and decision-makers at all levels of government to help the country ease social distancing and movement restriction mandates while greatly reduce transmission of the CCP virus, “even before a vaccine is widely available.”

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