State to hire thousands of contact tracers; counties also using existing employees

Local

TROY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — In order for the Capital Region to begin reopening, the area needed enough contact tracers. The state a rate of 30 tracers per 100,000 people, so local governments pooled their resources and worked together to meet the seventh and final metric.

On Tuesday, Albany County announced they have 225 employees who are in the training process. The city of Albany has 77, and Rensselaer County is training 52. The majority of these tracers are already county or city employees, who are currently at home, not working, but still getting paid.

Rensselaer County Executive Steve McLaughlin said they’re using the resources they already have instead of hiring new tracers.

“We’re not hiring anybody to do that. I have people that I’m paying right now. They’re going to do that,” said McLaughlin.

McLaughlin said they’re using existing employees from the county’s department of health, probation and social services. McLaughlin’s Executive Assistant Hannah Zinoman completed the online training, too.

“It starts off just telling you all about COVID and the symptoms and where it came from, and then it turns into how to talk to people on the phone and what you should be saying to them,” said Zinoman.

When those employees have to go back to focusing on their actual jobs, tracers may have to be backfilled depending on the projected number of cases. That’s where the outside citizens who are applying for the position come into play.

Shannon Latham, of Ballston Spa, told NEWS10 ABC she applied last week and had a phone interview on Tuesday.

“I mean, it’s just interesting, and you’re also helping people out. I’ll get the link for the training in about a day or so, and then once I receive that, I have 72 hours to complete the training. It’s a five-hour training,” said Latham.

Latham said it’s a one-year contract, she will be able to work from home, and they’re paying $27 an hour for either full or part-time positions.

According to the state, together with New York, Bloomberg Philanthropies is handling the recruitment, interviewing, and training as well as covering the cost to pay the tracers.

“We’re like, okay, that money better be there, and they’re assuring us that it is, but if Bloomberg is putting in $10 million, that’s not going to last very long if we hire a whole bunch of people across the entire state,” said McLaughlin.

According to the State Department of Health: “There are a variety of fund sources that are supporting contact tracing, including federal reimbursement, additional CDC funds, and state and local funds. Counties are eligible for FEMA reimbursement under the emergency declaration and NYS is also using federal and state funds to hire the necessary number of staff to stop further spread of COVID-19.”

The state also says they have received more than 40,000 applicants and over 500 offers have been initiated. So far, 5,000 applicants and over 2,000 local contact tracers have been through the online Johns Hopkins training.

Latham said they will provide the tracers with software for their computer so they can make phone calls from there without having to give out their actual phone number. The software will also be able to track the tracers’ software activity to calculate their hours.

Tracers will be tasked with tracking down people who came in contact with an infected person and then providing them with information regarding quarantine procedures, testing and community support.

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