South Carolina racing to hire, train hundreds of contact tracers

South Carolina racing to hire, train hundreds of contact tracers

CAMDEN, S.C. — On Tuesday, 1,741 new COVID-19 cases were reported across South Carolina, setting a new single-day record -- topping Saturday’s previous mark of 1,599. In fact, on Tuesday South Carolina reported more new cases, more hospitalizations and a greater percentage of positive tests than North Carolina did.

Health officials are concerned that warnings are being ignored and that the virus is spreading faster than it has since the start of the pandemic.

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Contact tracers play a critical role in slowing the spread of COVID-19. They’re trained to find out where someone who’s tested positive has been, who they’ve been close to, and to make sure they quarantine to protect others.

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The job often involves contacting family members, friends and the sick person’s workplace.

But South Carolina has not hired even half of the 1,000 contact tracers the state aims to have working. A little more than 400 people statewide currently do the job, which is labor-intensive, and requires long hours and detailed work.

As the state continues to announce more than 1,000 new coronavirus cases every day, each person who tests positive -- symptoms or not -- is connected to a contact tracer.

South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control consultant Dr. Brannon Traxler does this job herself.

"It's a day full of making phone calls and talking to people, and thinking through the appropriate guidance to give," Traxler told Channel 9.

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That guidance includes everything from how to properly quarantine and protect family members, to retracing every step.

The SCDHEC is still looking for people to do the job, wanting to hire hundreds more across the state. The work can become overwhelming, and that's what health officials are trying to avoid.

"It's not unusual to work five or more new cases -- at least -- in a day, and sometimes much higher than that," Traxler said. "We support our people in every way we can, and they are doing a fantastic job."

In March, Barbara Lane, who lives in Camden, was one of the earliest cases of COVID-19 in South Carolina. It devastated her family. She returned from a family funeral in Baltimore and believes she brought the virus home with her.

"I was around my dad and my mom and my brothers and they caught it from me, and we lost my dad to COVID-19," Lane said.

Lane told Channel 9 on Tuesday that her contact tracer helped her do things she couldn't focus on doing at the time.

“She’d say, ‘Barbara, we have to trace all your steps and just try to remember where you’ve actually been,’” Lane said. “And then that was the process with her, and it was really helpful.”

As coronavirus cases continue to climb, it's not clear now how many contact tracers the state will need to hire. Traxler said it depends on the status of new cases moving forward.

“We know we’re bringing hundreds more (tracers) in in the next couple of weeks,” she said.

Contact tracers investigate who's been exposed to COVID-19