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Hundreds of contact tracers will help track the spread of COVID-19 in Harris County

Three hundred tracers more tracers will be tracking the virus by the end of the month.

HOUSTON — Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo announced a "small army" of 200 contact tracers will be ready and trained by May 15 to track and help stop the spread of COVID-19.

Another 100, Hidalgo said, would be ready by the end of the following week. The city of Houston is also hiring contact tracers, nurses, and epidemiologists through virtual job fairs.

The tracers essentially track how the virus is spreading by calling people who have tested positive. They will ask where that person has been, who they have been in contact with, and other questions to understand how the virus may have spread from that person to others and who else may also potentially have it.

The goal is to get anyone who has been in contact with someone who is positive to self-isolate and interrupt the virus' spread.

"That way we prevent others from being infected – from getting sick," Hidalgo said. 

Contact tracing also helps health officials identify and narrow down who should get tested, and if those people need to self-isolate.

"Try to give as much information as you can to help them do their job," said Dr. Umair Shah, executive director of Harris County Public Health. "None of us know if we’re going to test positive tomorrow or the next day, so its helpful to know who we’ve been around."

The success of contact tracing is dependent on the community, Hidalgo said, urging people to stay home as much as possible to prevent possible exposures.

"This diverse army of tracers simply cannot keep up if people are out and about as life were back to normal" said Hidalgo. "We've been moving heaven and earth to do everything possible to contain the spread of this in light of the state's reopening which I still believe is too fast."

These callers will never ask for your social security number, bank account info, or immigration status.

Contact tracing is free to the community; tracers get paid with money from the CARES Act, Hidalgo said. Health officials are still encouraging people to get tested at a community site for free.