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As States Seek COVID Detectives, Librarians Among The Candidates

KUNM – “Depending on the estimate, the U.S. needs between 100,000 and 300,000 contact tracers to help fight COVID-19. Some say these new jobs could be an opportunity for some of the millions of Americans who’ve been laid off or furloughed. Tair Kiphibane manages the contact tracing operation for Salt Lake County, Utah. She started working as a contact tracer almost 15 years ago, and she says there’s an art to cold-calling people about scary diseases. “Everybody does it a little bit differently. I just like to get to know them first, but not to spend too much time because I may lose their time and attention,” says Kiphibane, who’s in charge of the county’s contact tracing team. In the past, she’s called people to tell them they may have been exposed to diseases like HIV, measles, Ebola. She’s a pro at diving quickly into personal territory…For COVID-19, what she and her colleagues primarily need is a person’s memory.  “Sometimes we ask them to pull out a calendar, credit card history, bank statements, things like that to help jog the memory,” she says. For someone who was diagnosed with COVID-19, they need to know when the person started having symptoms. Then, starting with two days before symptom onset, they talk through what happened each day, says Kiphibane, “from the minute you get up to the minute you go to bed.” Where have they been, who have they seen?

California has been getting attention for its efforts to build its contact tracing workforce. According to a survey by NPR, it’s one of just nine states – none of them in the Mountain West – that are on track to hire enough contact tracers, and it’s getting there in interesting ways. For example, this month San Francisco’s contact tracers welcomed about 20 of the city’s librarians to the team.  Jessica Jaramillo, who currently manages libraries in San Francisco’s South West District, is one of them.  “I kind of jumped at the opportunity to do this because it’s hard for me to think of a better use of my skills in this moment,” she says.  Those skills include interfacing with the public and asking questions to find out what information they need…”

See also The New York Times – How to Find Volunteers in a Pandemic

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