Kern County Public Health increases contact tracing as COVID-19 cases rise

Posted at 5:16 AM, Dec 09, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-09 08:16:41-05

As Coronavirus cases continue to rise, Kern County Public Health has redeployed 40 to 50 of their staff members to contact trace.

“Being able to identify those contacts, is how we slow and mitigate the disease in our community. It is the cornerstone of public health. It is vitally important,” Kern County Public Health Information Officer, Michelle Corson said.

She added that this increase could be just the beginning.

"When the first surge happened this summer, we had upwards of 100 staff doing contact tracing during that peak time. Then things slowed down for us, which was a good thing,” Corson explained. “So, we may have only needed 20 of our staff during those slower months. Unfortunately now, we are ramping up."

Contact tracing is a method public health has used to identify infectious diseases like sexually transmitted diseases, well before COVID-19.

While common in the healthcare world, this pandemic may be the first time it's become a part of everyday conversation for the public. So what exactly is contact tracing?

“So, if you went and had lunch with yesterday and have COVID-19 today, they would say, ‘okay who were you with yesterday or the day before?” Charles Daramola, Professor and Program Director of Public Health Science at Bakersfield College said. “‘Who were you in contact with? We need to trace them and find them and let them know they might have been exposed to somebody that has COVID-19, and then they need to get tested.’”

Now, you’re probably wondering how tracking someone like this is compliant with HIPAA. Corson said all the tracers really need are a person’s name and contact information. She added that tracers go through rigorous training and have team leads to make sure privacy laws are not breached.

“If anyone ever receives a call from a contact tracer, that has identified themselves as that, and they feel they are being asked things that are in violation of their privacy, we encourage them to call public health,” Corson said. “That number is 661-321-3000, and we can verify that that indeed was one of our staff calling or potentially not.”

Bakersfield College is holding a two-week training course for those interested in learning more about public health, communication in contact tracing, infectious diseases and the Coronavirus in general.

While public health is not recruiting third party contact tracers at this time, Corson said it’s helpful to know there are people trained locally in case they need some extra hands on deck.

Corson also points out that the Bakersfield College course will not be in place of public health training to become a contact tracer. You can find a link to the course here. Public Health jobs can be found here.