BALTIMORE (WMAR) — Johns Hopkins experts on average, a person with COVID-19 infects 2-3 other people and contact tracing is the key to slowing the spread without large scale shut downs.
A recent Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security report estimates the U.S. needs at least 100,000 contact tracers to reopen the economy and a new online course is helping prepare people to fill the new roles.
Today, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, with Bloomberg Philanthropies, launched a free online course to train people on the contact tracing basics and the course instructor, Dr. Emily Gurley demonstrated some of the key components.
Applicants will learn the basics about the disease, the transmission, when someone is infectious and the ethical considerations that come with the job.
"They need to know about how to respect privacy and confidentiality of people they are talking to," said Gurley.
Contact tracers are responsible for calling COVID-19 positive patients, figuring out their needs, and who they’ve been in contact with since being infectious. Then they have to call those contacts. The course gets people ready for those tough conversations, sometimes using simulations of calls.
"We’re are asking that everyone with the coronavirus and people like you who have been around those folks to stay home. That means no grocery stores, no visiting friends and no work. What challenges will this cause for you?'," said a simulated call.
Gurley said above all, contact tracers need to be able to communicate effectively.
"Contact tracers will be talking to people and giving them bad news and I think that we’ve tried to give them skills and ways to talk to people and support people through what can be scary and difficult situations," said Gurley.
The course is required for contact tracers being hired by the state of New York but anyone in the country can take it.
The contact tracing course, which takes six hours to complete, is divided into five sections or “modules.” The course covers:
- Basic information on the virus and COVID-19, including symptoms of infection and how the virus is transmitted;
- Fundamentals of contact tracing, such as how to define a case, identify their contacts, and calculate how long a contact should isolate;
- Steps involved in investigating cases and tracing their contacts, including simulated scenes performed by professional actors who illustrate potential interactions that tracers may experience with infected individuals and their contacts;
- Ethics of contact tracing, including balancing privacy and public health considerations, and examples of basic technology tools that can facilitate contact tracing, such as using text messaging for check-ins and reminders;
- Skills for effective communications in the tracing process, such as what it means to be an “active listener” and how to deal with common challenges that arise when investigating cases.