Virginia will use more than $50 million on contact tracing

Posted at 3:50 PM, May 20, 2020

NORFOLK, Va. - Virginia will use $58 million in federal funds to hire 1,000 contact tracers, Gov. Northam said during a news conference on Wednesday.

The contact tracing will be key in helping to control the spread of COVID-19, experts say. If someone tests positive for COVID-19, they'll tell the Department of Health who they've been in touch with since about two days before they began showing symptoms. Generally, these are people who've shared a space within six feet for more than 10 minutes with someone infectious. Those people will be asked to quarantine.

"We're not doing this to be mean, and we're not doing this to overreach. We're doing this as a matter of protection," said Lisa Engle, an Epidemiologist from the Chesapeake Health District in the Department of Health.

This method has been around basically forever, Engle said. It's already used for other diseases including tuberculosis and STDs. Engle says the focus is on educating people about the risks and she rebuffs concerns of government overreach.

Related: Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School launches free program to train contact tracers

"We are not going in there saying, 'You have to quarantine. We're serving you with a piece of paper, and if you don't quarantine we're going to call the police.' We don't do that. Once we educate, I'm telling you the response is amazing," said Engle.

As Virginia continues efforts to reopen, Engle says wearing a mask is key to helping control the spread, but admits the messaging on masks has at times been mixed. "The more we know, the more we can guide the public and that's why the mask is encouraged now and I just want the public to understand that."

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