ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – Health officials say another key component in safely reopening businesses is contact tracing. New Mexico health officials hope technology can help keep track of the virus spread.
“Contact tracing” means tracking down everyone who’s come into contact with a person with COVID-19, then isolating them and testing those people.
Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham says New Mexico is working with the federal government to lead the country in these efforts. “The White House is interested in working with New Mexico because of Secretary Kunkel’s success in testing, and because of Dr. Scrase’s success at getting our medical team ready,” said Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham during an April 15 press conference.
“They want New Mexico to be a pilot for surveillance and research and what we call contact tracing – that’s figuring out a more automated way and bringing in more workers to figure out who has been exposed,” Gov. Lujan Grisham added.
The governor explained that streamlining contact tracing efforts will allow governments to better address and plan for economic recovery.
Currently, if someone tests positive for COVID-19, a ‘Contact Tracer’ with the state works to identify and notify everyone who may have been exposed to them. According to estimates from the National Association of County and City Health Officials, each state should have at least 30 contact tracers on staff per 100,000 people, meaning New Mexico would need at least 600 contact tracers.
A recent survey by NPR shows contact tracing capacity in all 50 states, according to state public health departments.
A spokesperson for the New Mexico Human Services Department told News 13 via email on Tuesday, “The Department of Health has more than 100 contract tracers – all of them employees, some whose job included contact tracing, most of whom have been specially trained and temporarily reassigned to contact tracing. We currently have more than enough personnel to perform this task.”
“Our plan is to continue contract tracing for every New Mexican who tests positive for COVID-19.”
During a news conference on April 22, Gov. Lujan Grisham also announced a pilot program with software company Accenture, which could use text messaging to alert people.
“An automated aspect allows someone to get a text, gives us a sense sort of geographically about who might be exposed,” said Gov. Lujan Grisham. “No private data goes anywhere, no one knows who is who – it’s just getting a sense about who might be exposed so that we can get you tested, and then we know.”
Countries like South Korea, Taiwan, and New Zealand are already using technology to help with contact tracing. Singapore just introduced a tracking app to help authorities identify people who’ve come into contact with coronavirus victims.
Johns Hopkins recently published a national plan for contact tracing in the U.S. calling on Congress to provide emergency funding to states to hire more contact trace workers. According to the Johns Hopkins report, each infected person can, on average, infect two to three others. This means that if one person spreads the virus to three others, that first positive case can turn into more than 59,000 cases in 10 rounds of infections.
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