Contact tracing, testing focus of Gov. Edwards’ Friday COVID-19 briefing

Louisiana News

BATON ROUGE, La. (KTAL/KMSS) – Governor John Bel Edwards says the state is working to expand contact tracing in preparation for entering the first phases of reopening the economy, which will include hiring up to 700 contact tracers.

“When the restrictions begin to ease and people travel more and go back to work, there will be more contact. We have to do our part,” Edwards said Friday during his latest briefing on the state’s response to the outbreak of COVID-19.

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Edwards said the hire of 250 contract tracers will be immediate, and as many 700 may be needed as part of a plan modeled on how Massachusets has set up a similar program.

“As we begin contract tracing, we’ll be hiring more. We’ll go from currently around 70 to 250 contract tracers. That’ll be set up May 15th.”

The governor says the Louisiana Department of Health has contracted Accenture and Salesforce to manage Louisiana’s contact tracing process, using two Louisiana-based call centers with 100 percent Louisiana agents. The training for these contact tracers will be managed by LSU’s Stephenson Disaster Management Institute. While hiring will be statewide, the initial locations for the call centers are based in the Lafayette and New Orleans areas.

Contact tracers must have graduated high school, feel comfortable having a telephone conversation with someone and also entering data. They must be compassionate, able to protect and honor patient privacy, and complete a very detailed training session.

Those who are interested in working with the state to help with contact tracing can apply at contacttracing@la.gov

Contact tracers will locate people who have come in contact with someone who has tested positive for the virus, including household members, intimate partners, caregivers and anyone who may have been within six feet for more than 15 minutes.

Office of Public Health Assistant Secretary Alex Billioux said people who may have been exposed will then be contacted and interviewed without being told the identity of who may have exposed them. They will then be asked to quarantine, especially if they are showing symptoms.

“If you are contacted by a contact tracer, we really need you to take it seriously and stay home.”

Billioux said protecting each patient’s privacy will be very important throughout the process.

For contact tracing to be successful, however, an increase in testing is critical, said Billioux. The state is shooting for a goal of testing 200,000 in the month of May and continuing to ramp up beyond that goal. The key, he said, would be to make sure the testing takes place where it is needed most – in areas with vulnerable populations and in rural areas that may have been under-tested.

The state is also investing in increasing the capabilities of the state-run lab, pumping over $3.5 million into equipment and facilities. Billioux said the state is also working with private labs to see and meet their needs, as well.

While noting that the number of new case cases and deaths reported Friday are among the lowest the state has seen, he also said a ten-year-old child was among the latest deaths reported. Edwards said the child had a compromised immune system.

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