CDC director: US needs up to 100,000 contact tracers by September to fight coronavirus

CDC director: US needs up to 100,000 contact tracers by September to fight coronavirus
© Bonnie Cash

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Robert Redfield told Congress on Thursday that the country needs between 30,000 and 100,000 people working on contact tracing in order to help contain the next wave of the coronavirus.

The estimate shows the daunting challenge of hiring an army of people to interview those infected with coronavirus to identify who they have been in contact with so that those people can quarantine and help prevent the spread of the virus. 

“I've estimated between 30 and 100,000” contact tracers are needed," Redfield told the House Appropriations Committee during a hearing Thursday. He acknowledged the figure is “sizable,” though it is actually less than the 300,000 people former CDC director Tom Frieden has estimated the U.S. will need. 

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He said it is crucial to get the contact tracing system in place by September to try to keep the virus in check ahead of an expected surge in the fall and winter. That could help prevent the type of blunt stay-at-home orders that the U.S. had to implement this spring after missing the window to contain the virus earlier this year.

“We really have to get this built and we have to get it built between now and September,” Redfield said. 

Redfield said his agency has met with all 50 states to discuss hiring contact tracers and is pleased that some states have already started to do so. New York City, for example, has hired 1,700 contact tracers. 

He said the CDC Foundation is working to hire personnel to augment state efforts and the CDC has distributed funding to states provided by Congress for the purpose. He added he hopes AmeriCorps is a source of additional staff.  

“It is fundamental that we have a fully operational contact tracing workforce that every single case, every single cluster, can do comprehensive contact tracing within 24 to 36 hours, 48 hours at the latest, get it completed, get it isolated, so that we can stay in containment mode as we get into the fall and winter of 2020,” he said.