Wisconsin increases contact tracing efforts, state looking to hire

The state will soon post job announcements for limited-term contact tracing employees

MADISON, Wis. — Governor Tony Evers allocated $75 million for increased contact tracing efforts.

In a statement, Evers said, “Currently, more than 200 current state employees have been reassigned from typical duties to make these crucial phone calls. In the coming weeks, the state will be hiring additional limited term employees to increase the scale of the contact tracing program.”

Contact tracing is pertinent to the Forward Dane plan of safely reopening the state. Dr. Jeff Pothof at UW Health said contact tracing, ” is really the public health tool that helps us get ahead of the virus. If we can identify through contact tracing people who are at risk of getting sick and remove them from being out in public or know that they have the disease, we can curb transition.”

Public health officials have been working around the clock calling people who may have come into contact with those who test positive for COVID-19.

Pothof said, “There’s a time component. So, someone who has a face covering and then passes by someone in a grocery store for just a second or two, it’s exceedingly unlikely that that encounter is going to transmit COVID-19. If we had a positive patient who had been at a bar and the bar was loud and they were talking loudly with a whole bunch of other people for an hour and a half without a face mask on, all those people around that person at a bar would be someone who public health would be really interested in because their risk of actually getting the disease would be quite a bit higher.”

Of the $75 million dollars Evers set aside for contact tracing, up to $50 million will used by public health departments to hire more people to investigate the disease, contact trace and monitor. The remaining funds will go towards technology resources to help with these tasks.

“It’s really looking at the risk of those people who that individual who is positive came into contact with and determining based on that risk, ‘Is this someone who we think should be tested? Is this someone who we would recommend isolating? Or was this encounter so brief and so unlikely to transmit the virus that we don’t have to do anything about that other contact?'”

DHS said in a statement,  “Contact tracing is a critical tool in our ability to effectively manage COVID-19 now and moving forward.”

The more people who test positive in our state, the more people the state needs to hire to keep up with the contact tracing efforts, and if we can’t keep up with growing numbers, it could set us back even more from being able to reopen the state.

“I think it’s a moving target based on what’s going on in the state,” Pothof said.