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Washington’s contact tracing team will be ready by Friday

Washington National Guard soldiers have been helping to pack food during the outbreak. This week, 350 members will become contact tracers for the state. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Governor Inslee announced the launch of a contact tracing initiative for Washington state on Tuesday as the next step toward reopening businesses while attempting to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Gov. Inslee outlines state’s contact tracing system

By the end of the week, Inslee said there will be 1,371 contact tracers trained and ready. This will include, to date, 351 tracers from the National Guard, 390 from the state Department of Licensing, and 630 state and local health department professionals.

“This is a labor-intensive endeavor, and we want to make sure that we have enough resources to get this job done,” Inslee said. “It’s a very heavy lift for the people working on this effort, and that’s why we’re building up the contact tracing team.”

If a contact tracer contacts you, the name of the person who provided your name will not be shared. The tracers have all been screened and have signed strict confidentiality agreements.

“These people are fully trained,” Inslee added. “And that’s really important because we want to make sure that these folks respect the rights of privacy of the people involved, and that they have a good sense of how to deal with the public, who are sometimes very anxious about their results and the like.”

Contract tracers will not ask for your immigration status, social security number, financial information, or marital status.

Senator Steve Hobbs, a Lieutenant Colonel in the Washington Army National Guard, joined Tuesday’s conference to share insight on the National Guard members who have been trained as contact tracers.

“Many of you should know that we live in your community, we are doctors, teachers, and construction workers, which is why we are so invested in reversing the spread of the coronavirus,” Hobbs said.

“That’s why we are so pleased to support the department of health in its efforts to push the voluntary COVID-19 mapping program, the mission that we are currently doing,” he added.

Hobbs said the department of health is the leading agency for this project, and that the National Guard is using their equipment and their facility.

“Privacy is the utmost importance, which is why all data received and inputted is from the department of health secure database,” Hobbs said. “And as the governor said, all this is voluntary. We are only contacting people that have already agreed to be contacted, and the individual can end the phone call at any time.”

Hobbs said this initiative will help people who are in need get the care, services, and assistance required to be able to isolate and recover.

“The Washington National Guard is ready to serve,” Hobbs said. “This is a unique mission for us, but it’s not unique when we help our community and our state.”

Secretary of Health, John Wiesman, reiterated that the contact tracing initiative will need every partner in order to succeed.

“We’re incredibly appreciative of the National Guard and department of licensing for their willingness to serve in this capacity. This really does take all of us, and the partnerships to make this are incredibly important,” Weisman said.

“And that partnership really, I want to remind people, starts with each and every one of us,” he added. “It starts in that if we’re feeling ill, it’s incredibly important that we stay home and not share our germs.”

If you have any of the symptoms of COVID-19, Wiesman said to stay home, get tested so you can find out if you’re infected, and get the appropriate care.

“It really starts with each and every one of us taking that responsibility very seriously,” he said. “And I know folks want to open up the economy, and central to that is really that each one of us takes the responsibility to assure that we are monitoring our health and doing what is right, not only for us but for the community.”

Weisman said it is not time to let up on physical distancing or good hygiene practices.

The trained contact tracers, Wiesman said, are here to assist you in being successful in taking care of yourself, your household members, and close contacts, in staying healthy and safe, and in getting economy up and running again.

“Engage with public health in this important work,” he said. “We can help you be successful, and you can help us be successful.”

Washington restaurants will be required to keep logs of customers for contact tracing

Inslee added that there are plans to expand the contact tracing team over the coming weeks.

“We do intend to hire additional people and have volunteers to increase, to at least some degree, our capability over the next several weeks,” Inslee said. “We want to do that because we’d like to have a little bit bigger roster of folks in the event that we saw a spike in cases. We also would like to, over time, release some of the members of National Guard back to their civilian duties.”

“If people are interested, please let us know because it’s an important endeavor,” he added.

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