Maryland Hiring Hundreds of Stay-at-Home Workers for Contact Tracing Effort

    The state of Maryland is hiring hundreds of stay-at-home workers to help trace the COVID-19 virus, and, it is hoped, stop its spread.

    More than 900 people have applied to become contact tracers in the state since an application went live last week. (Editor’s note: The website now says that the state has reached its limit on hires at present, but people can still sign up to be considered for available jobs later.)

    The state hopes to have 1,000 contact tracers in place within the next few weeks under a contract with NORC at the University of Chicago, a non-partisan research institution based in Illinois with an office in Bethesda.

    State officials did not provide a total amount for the contract with NORC. The hourly positions will be paid a salary equal to $35,000 annually, according to the Department of Health.

    Contact tracers hired under the Department of Health contract will call COVID-19 patients within 24 hours of a positive test results to trace their movements and interactions with others.

    The tracers will also reach out to every person who had close contact with the infected person and recommend self-quarantine for 14 days. The tracers will continue to check in with those exposed until the incubation period for COVID-19 has passed, health officials said.

    Contact tracers will also be able to fast-track testing for anyone they interview who shows symptoms of COVID-19.

    Before the state contract with NORC, local health departments have been conducting contact tracing.

    Contact tracers will work shifts up to six hours, making calls seven days a week. Most tracers will work four or five shifts a week, according to the Department of Health.

    Training is expected in the last week of May.

    Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) has said a robust contact tracing effort is critical to the state’s reopening plan.

    The state plans to continue contact tracing efforts for six months, though the workforce will fluctuate based on infection rates, officials said.

    In a report released last month, researchers at Johns Hopkins University suggested that more than 100,000 contact tracers need to be hired nationwide to effectively track the spread of COVID-19.

    Johns Hopkins is now offering a free course for people interested in learning how to become contact tracers. For more information, click here.

    Hannah Gaskill contributed to this report.

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    Danielle E. Gaines
    Danielle Gaines most recently worked for Bethesda Beat covering Montgomery County. Previously, she spent six years at The Frederick News-Post as the paper’s principal government and politics reporter for half that time, covering courts and legal affairs before that. She also reported for the now-defunct The Gazette of Politics and Business in Maryland and previously worked as a county government and education reporter at the Merced Sun-Star in California’s Central Valley.