The 6 things states can do to build a diverse and effective contact tracing workforce

By Brooke DeRenzis, August 10, 2020

Public health experts agree: Contact tracing is critical to stopping the spread of Covid-19, which has caused more than 160,000 deaths in the United States and an economic recession with devastating impacts for millions of workers– particularly workers of color and those without a college degree. Yet few states have developed intentional strategies to ensure workers can train for contact tracing jobs, especially in communities most impacted by the virus.

Our latest report – “Add to Contacts” – outlines concrete steps that states should take to build and support a contact tracing workforce to contain the spread of the virus while also creating quality, long-term career pathways in health-related fields for these essential, frontline health workers.

Contact tracing, much like workforce development initiatives, should be a local process. States should take a community-based approach by recruiting and training local health workers, prioritizing Black, Latinx, Indigenous, and other communities of color who have been hardest hit by the pandemic due to structural racism. Health workers with deep knowledge of their local community are more likely to be successful in building trust and connecting patients to the right resources and services. And voters agree, with the majority of Black, Latinx, and Asian American respondents in a recent poll saying they want contact tracers to come from these impacted communities.

States must also focus on connecting this diverse contact tracing workforce with longer-term quality careers in health-related fields by providing career pathway training grants and investing in partnerships between local health employers, local education and training providers, and local community organizations. These additional training opportunities should lead to family-supporting careers and advance equity within the workforce.

Such investments are crucial to addressing current health workforce shortages, and growing the diverse and equitable health workforce our country needs. Racial and ethnic diversity in the workforce helps healthcare systems increase their cultural and linguistic competencies and patient satisfaction, which in turn can increase the effectiveness of care and associated health outcomes.

The recent surge in COVID-19 cases and delays in testing have hampered contact tracing efforts in recent weeks. But long term, contact tracing will continue to be one of a number of key strategies that states and localities will need to use to mitigate the spread of coronavirus, safely reopen communities, and get the economy back on track. Those who are already at the frontlines of tracking the virus –along with future contact tracers –deserve support to step into for quality careers once COVID-19 contact tracing subsides.

With this in mind, here are the six things states can do to build a diverse and effective contact tracing workforce, as outlined in Add to Contacts:

Recruit, train, and hire contact tracers from local communities that have been disproportionately impacted by the Covid-19 crisis, particularly communities of color.

Set standards for contact tracing jobs to ensure they create economic opportunity for workers and their families while also building a talent pipeline for other health-related careers.

Fund and support industry partnerships to develop career pathways to quality healthcare careers that will remain in the labor market when contact tracing declines.

Provide contact tracers with career pathways training grants so they can continue their training and transition to their next job.

Create supportive service funds that provide contact tracers with time-limited financial assistance.

Provide transparency on the training and job placement of workers in contact tracer jobs.

You can read the full report here.