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Findings from a Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security–NPR Survey on National Contact Tracing Workforce: December 2020

Center News


December 23, 2020 – The Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security at the Bloomberg School of Public Health and its partner, the National Public Radio (NPR), have released findings from their second joint survey on the state of the national coronavirus contact tracing workforce.

The survey finds that there are now 70,538 contact tracers working across the United States, a more than sixfold increase since the pandemic began. The survey also found that the 33 state and territorial health departments that responded had added nearly 20,000 tracers since the last survey, which was conducted in October 2020.

These results make clear that "health departments are still invested in contact tracing," said Crystal Watson, DrPH, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security and an associate professor in the Department of Environmental Health and Engineering at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Speaking to NPR, Dr. Watson, who oversaw the survey, said "They're trying really hard to keep up as best they can with the cases that they're seeing."

Key takeaways from the December 2020 survey include:

  1. States are increasing staff but most still do not have enough.
  2. Overwhelmed contact tracers have to triage and focus on clusters of high-risk populations like people ages younger than 18 years, or 65 years and older.
  3. Most states ask about what support people need to stay home. Contact tracer calls do more than just alert people they may have been infected or exposed; they can help connect people find services like childcare, medications, or rental assistance so that people can isolate safely at home.
  4. But most places lack actual dedicated social support teams—less than half of respondents had dedicated community health workers who can actually provide needed services.
  5. More federal funding will help get contact tracing back on track.
  6. But the impact of the funding still depends on governors taking action to slow the spread with closures, stay-at-home orders, mask mandates, and more.