ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — Alaska Health Department officials are partnering with the UAA Center for Rural Health and Workforce to quickly train 500 contact tracers needed to help limit coronavirus outbreaks.
Alaska officials initially hoped to train 500 contact tracers by June 30 but so far only 177 people had completed the training through July 10, the Anchorage Daily News reported Wednesday. Another 480 were registered and 990 people had expressed interest in becoming a contact tracer.
Rural Health and Workforce Director Gloria Burnett said officials were seeking assistance on the matter and the UAA center had the resources to help.
“We got this call in mid-May and just hit the ground running from there,” Burnett said. “The metaphor I’ve been using is it’s like we’ve been building a ship while we’re recruiting our crew while we’re charting our course and kind of hitting storms along the way.”
The Center for Rural Health and Workforce had access to a $95,000 supplemental federal grant, which the state matched to help fund development of the contact tracing curriculum. Center staff — not being trained public health experts — were able to call on others in the UAA College of Health when drafting the 12- to 16-hour online training course.
About $2.1 million has been allocated to hire contact tracers, which is what the center is focused on now.
When Alaska began seeing its first cases of coronavirus in March, most individuals had only been in contact with a handful of other people, which meant the potential contacts could be traced fairly quickly, Burnett said. Now, however, some people who have tested positive for coronavirus have been in contact with 50 to 100 people, which makes the tracing immensely more time consuming and challenging, she said.
While for most people the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms such as a fever and cough, it can cause more severe illness and death for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems.