New York State Offering Free Online Course For Contact Tracing Applicants

New York State is currently training applicants to be contact tracers. The May launch of “COVID-19 Contact Tracing,” a free online course offered by Johns Hopkins University (JHU). Statewide.

Since its inception on May 11, over 7,000 applicants have applied for positions in New York’s Contact Tracing Initiative (CTI). New York’s program will be conducted in the downstate region in conjunction with New Jersey and Connecticut. 

New York City expects to hire 2,500 contact tracers by June. The City’s “test and trace” corps will work in partnership with Salesforce. The company is now working to establish a call center and a customer relationship and case management system by the end of May.  

The JHU course involves six one-hour modules that explain how to engage in contact tracing, ways to support cases and their contacts, and common obstacles and solutions. Bloomberg Philanthropies provided funding for JHU to develop the course. 

Dr. Emily Gurley, an infectious disease epidemiologist at JHU and lead instructor for the course, has been using contact tracing as part of outbreak response since 2004. 

Gurley said an important part of the course is gaining skills in active listening. The course helps participants do this by watching simulations of realistic conversations between a tracer and a contact. 

In one excerpt, a tracer advises a contact to stay at home for two weeks.  

The contact asks, “You’re sure that this is all necessary, though?”

The tracer answers, “I hear you. We’re making a big ask, but we’re hoping that this will help protect your community and cut off spread to even more people. Breaking the chain, if that makes sense.”

Gurley said conversations like these showcase explain how to build a rapport. Positive relationships help a contact tracer learn a case’s contacts and share directions about how to isolate and quarantine. 

“You’re not going to help them…unless you have some level of trust. It’s not just what you do as a contact tracer, but how you do it that matters so much. Ultimately, this is a program about connecting with people and helping support them to stop the spread,” said Gurley.

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