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300 contact tracers will be ready to go in Harris County next week, Hidalgo says

People being trained to become contact tracers are seen in a classroom at Harris County Public Health in Houston on May 13, 2020.
People being trained to become contact tracers are seen in a classroom at Harris County Public Health in Houston on May 13, 2020. (KPRC)

HOUSTON – More than 300 people are being trained in Harris County right now to become contact tracers as part of the county’s efforts to slow the spread of coronavirus, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said Wednesday.

Hidalgo made her remarks after speaking to a class of trainees at Harris County Public Health. She said that some of those who will become tracers are people who have lost their jobs because of the pandemic. Others are volunteers.

The money being used to pay the tracers is coming from federal funds allocated to the county as part of the CARES Act, Hidalgo said.

What does a tracer do?

As the name implies, the tracers and their supervisors will be tasked with tracing the steps of a coronavirus patient to determine who else may have been exposed to the disease. The goal is to isolate those people to contain the spread of the virus.

“This is a public health strategy we’ve used over the decades,” said Dr. Umair Shah, health authority for Harris County.

Tracers receive training in tracing methodology as well as laws regarding the privacy of health information, Hidalgo said.

What will tracers ask?

Dr. Umair Shah, health authority for Harris County, said tracers will ask questions about where the person has been, who they have been around and if they have been to any large gatherings. He said tracers will also ask about coworkers if the patient has returned to the workplace.

“Please be nice to our contract tracers,” Shah said. “Give them as much information as you can to help them do their job.”

What tracers won’t ask

Hidalgo said the county’s tracers will never ask for Social Security numbers, bank account information or credit card information. Contact tracing is free, so legitimate tracers will never ask for payment. They will also never get involved in a custody battle, Hidalgo said.

“We zealously guard private health information,” Hidalgo said.

We’re not back to normal

The number of tracers being deployed is based on a manageable rate of new infections, Hidalgo said. She said that if people start going out too soon, the number of new cases could become too large for the tracers to keep up, which will make it much harder to contain an outbreak.

“Treat this with the seriousness it deserves,” Hidalgo said.

She said people who can stay home should continue to do so.

You can watch a replay of the news conference below.

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo provides an update on county's coronavirus response efforts.

Posted by KPRC2 / Click2Houston on Wednesday, May 13, 2020

This story is developing.


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