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Two months into reopening and Texas still needs thousands of contact tracers, researcher says

Without a vaccine, contact tracing is the best way to fight COVID-19.

FORT WORTH, Texas — Two months into reopening, Texas needs help.

In fact, it needs thousands of helpers. At least that’s what Edward Salsberg thinks.

Salsberg is a senior researcher at The Mullan Institute at George Washington University and helped build a model to figure out how many contact tracers states need to track COVID-19.

“People want to get back to being social,” he said. “That’s when you need the contact tracers the most.”

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It works by finding out first who has the virus and who they may have recently been around and then getting those people tested and to stay away from others.

Gov. Abbott set a goal of 4,000 contact tracers in late April. As of last week, there were 3,192. Lately, though, cases have skyrocketed, and more cases means more contacts and a higher need for contact tracers.

“Contact tracing is in my mind incredibly important,” he said. “Once you find out someone is positive, you really want to quickly reach out to anyone they’ve been in contact with.”

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Now, Salsberg’s model says the state needs more than 19,000 contact tracers. Even conservative modeling puts that number just over 10,000, about triple what the state is at now.

It’s basic math. If there are 5,000 cases in a day, a mark Texas broke Tuesday, and each case was around 10 people recently, that’s 50,000 for that day, not to mention follow calls to contact from previous days.

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“There are a number of strategies that local governments have used to ramp up quickly,” Salsberg said.

He believes health departments should take advantage of free online training and high unemployment to hire.

Staffing isn’t the only issue. One of the inputs in the model is how many people contact tracers can reach, so when they call, pick up.

“Don’t you want to help your friends before they spread it to their family and friends?” Salsberg said.

For businesses to stay open, contact tracing has to improve, and right now, Texas needs help.

“This is your contribution to your community to try and stop the spread of this before the government sort of needs to take drastic action,” Salsberg said.

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