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COVID-19 Contact Tracing: What It Is and How to Get Hired



There has been a lot of talk recently about COVID-19 contact tracing. On the surface, it can sound scary and leave you with many questions. Who will be tracking me and how? Will my every move be tracked? Will my rights be taken away somehow?

While COVID-19 contact tracing is ever evolving and we may not have the answers to all the previous questions, there is a glimmer of hope that comes with the developing tracing expansion.

If all levels of the government (local, state and federal) want to expand their COVID-19 contact tracing programs, they’re going to need able bodies to do the tracing. What does that mean for you? It could mean you’ve found yourself a new job to help you make ends meet during these trying times.

What Is COVID-19 Contact Tracing?

The definition of COVID-19 contact tracing is as follows:

A practice aimed to slow the spread of a highly contagious illness by quickly notifying friends, family, co-workers and others who have made contact with someone who has tested positive for the contagious illness.

In a nutshell, COVID-19 contact tracing is just letting those who have been around a positive COVID-19 case know that this specific person has the virus. This way, those people can self-isolate and watch themselves carefully for symptoms.

In theory, this act can help stop spread the virus as those people who were not aware of their contact with the infected person can stop going out into the public and risk spreading the virus more.



The CDC put out an official training guide on how to contact trace. The five basic steps to completing the contact tracing act are:

  • Test
  • Investigation and elicitation
  • Trace
  • Quarantine or isolate
  • Follow-up

Once someone tests positive for the virus, a third-party must investigate and find out where this person has been and who they may have encountered at these places. Next, the researcher must find these people to let them know they have been around someone who has tested positive. These people are then advised to self-quarantine or self-isolate and the researcher will follow-up with them later to see if these people also have symptoms.

This all sounds easy to do, but it’s actually difficult. How do you know the person who has tested positive is telling the truth about where they have been or who they have seen? What if they don’t have the contact information to find the other people to let them know to self-isolate? There is actually a lot of work involved with contact tracing.

How Does COVID-19 Contact Tracing Happen?

Much of COVID-19 contact tracing stems from hospitals or testing centers. Once someone has been positively diagnosed with COVID-19, the hospitals or testing centers are required to alert the local health department and contact tracing steps can begin from there.

Smartphone apps have also been discussed as ways to track cases. In April, Google and Apple even promised to make efficient apps to help track cases and contact trace. The apps have run into some roadblocks though.

National health officials have deemed these apps as “likely useless” because of a variety of reasons. Among those reasons is the app updates don’t align with the major tech companies’ protocols and the operating system updates aren’t up to the required speeds needed to make them function properly.

Additionally, Google and Apple don’t like to share private information about their users with outside sources such as the government. Sharing users’ private health information with public health officials would be like pulling teeth and would more than likely be a waste of time, money and resources.

So, if apps aren’t currently effective, how else can COVID-19 contact tracing happen? It happens by good, ol’ fashioned hard work.

Real people are needed to put in the time to find contact information for people who need to be alerted about having crossed the path of a positive COVID-19 case. Phone calls will need to be made. Emails or text messages will need to be sent.

These actions require REAL people which means local and state governments will need to hire new employees to help get boots on the ground to begin the COVID-19 contact tracing process!

How to Get Hired as a COVID-19 Contact Tracer

Nearly every state in the country is looking to hire more COVID-19 contact tracers! In fact, 44 states and the District of Columbia are planning to expand their contact tracing workforces, according to NPR. States such as California, New York, Virginia, Illinois, Massachusetts, Louisiana, Kentucky, Texas, Kansas, Alaska, Michigan, Nebraska and North Dakota are all looking to significantly increase the amount of contact tracers they employee.

The goal is to have over 300,000 COVID-19 contact tracing jobs nationally, which means a lot of hiring will be done and YOU could be one of those people!

In its COVID-19 contact tracing guide, the CDC recommends the following skills and qualities for someone to be hired on for the role:

  • Motivational interviewing skills
  • Risk communications skills
  • Cultural sensitivity
  • Being able to adapt to communicating with non-English speakers and those who have communication impairments

Each individual state, and local governments within each state, may have additional requirements on what skills and qualities are needed to become a COVID-19 contact tracer.

You may want to become a contact tracer simply to help with the fight against COVID-19. But you also may want to become a COVID-19 contact tracer to help supplement your income if you’ve been laid off or had your hours slashed at your job due to COVID-19 lockdowns across the country. Either way is a good reason to apply for the job!

The pay for a COVID-19 contact tracer varies. In Massachusetts, COVID-19 contact tracers are getting paid between $20-$25 per hour, which is the same pay as federal census workers. In Illinois, there is no set salary; the funds to pay contact tracers are coming from the federal CARES Act and from Disaster Relief Act funding. The county health departments in Illinois are doing the hiring, so the salary amount for a contact tracer can also vary based on the county.

If you’re interested in becoming a COVID-19 contact tracer to supplement your income and to help battle the virus, check your local health department’s and state health department’s websites to see where and how to apply today!

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