Sedgwick County to bring-on 20 hires to assist with contact tracing

Published: May. 12, 2020 at 3:50 PM CDT
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Volunteers are wanted to help fight the COVID-19 pandemic here in Kansas.

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment wants to have a force of 400 volunteers by this summer and fall to help with contact tracing.

The volunteers would serve as "investigators" to track the movements of someone who tested positive, to see where they've been and who they've interacted with while contagious. The volunteers would telework and ask a series of questions of potential "contacts."

Contract tracing is something the CDC says is a pillar in slowing the spread of COVID-19. How exactly does it work?

Let's say you have COVID-1, but don't yet know it and then decide to go to one of your favorite hangouts. While there, you order a cup of coffee, sit down and visit with the shop's owner and a couple regulars. After about 20 minutes, you leave.

A week later, let's say one of the regulars you visited with during the prior week's coffee-shop stop gets sick and tests positive for COVID-19. That's when contact tracing begins. Health officials will interview the coffee-shop regular who tested positive for the virus and from there, develops a list of people who may be at risk.

They will then contact those people and tell them they've been exposed to COVID-19 and ask them to self-quarantine for 14 days. The idea with having everyone from the "direct-contact" list self-quarantine for two weeks to prevent the virus from spreading further.

Sedgwick County wants to bring-on 20 contact tracers to help the county health department to help relieve some of the burdens on the department's staff.

Volunteers have been working at the county's drive-thru testing site. They're made up of nurses, pharmacists, and some people who are not from the medical profession.

Most of the volunteers come from a service known as the "Medical Reserve Corps." MRC helps to verify and place volunteers where they are best suited.

In addition to testing people, these volunteers assist with paperwork, answering questions, and other tasks.

"[They] give our own staff a break… we've had pharmacists connected with KU School of Medicine that came over and were trained and are helping out. I know that we have a nurse or two [who] are volunteering that aren't part of the MRC," said Byrne.

The National Medical Reserve Corps (MRC) is comprised of more than 970 community-based volunteer units across the country.

The organization promotes healthy living throughout the year and prepares for and responds to public health emergencies.

Sedgwick County Health Director Adrienne Byrne tells KWCH12 this is allowing her staff to focus on other priorities.

"They do relieve some of the burdens. It can be stressful; you put all the PPE on to go out to the drive-thru. It helps reduce burnout with our own staff by having volunteers that are there," said Byrne.

However, Sedgwick County is taking a different approach when it comes to contact tracing. They are looking to have 20 positions filled with disease specialists to do contact tracing and have them on staff for the rest of the year. For the health department, this approach provides more continuity.

"I know a lot of other places are using volunteers, and thank goodness they have that ability to do that, and hopefully we won't get to the place that we need more people," said Byrne. "Our goal is to keep around 20 investigators on and some of the investigators that we've had, that we've pulled, now need to go back to their other job in the health department, whether it'd be healthy babies nurse or WIC nurse. So, we're filling some of those voids in the next week or so by getting other people hired so we can know how many investigators we have on a daily basis."

You can apply to be an MRC volunteer here:

Sedgwick County will have its drive-thru clinic the Saturday before Memorial Day.

Byrne said, "We're sitting in a good place with our drive-thru clinic. We can do a good 300+ a day. I think we had 140 yesterday."

If people want to get tested at the Health Department's test site, they first need to contact United Way's 211 hotline and have at least one of the symptoms to schedule an appointment.

"It's still in our community, and most of us don't have immunities built up to, so it's important to do the social distancing," said Byrne. "Wear masks when we're indoors. Keep the hands away from the eyes, nose, and mouth and be careful. "