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Now hiring: Contact tracers needed to connect the dots in F-M coronavirus cases

Fargo Cass Public Health hopes to hire more than a half-dozen workers to track cases.

Contact tracers
Employees doing contact tracing for people with COVID-19 and others who may have been exposed to them are shown recently at Fargo Cass Public Health in Fargo. Special to The Forum

FARGO — The Fargo-Moorhead area might be better off than many other parts of the country in terms of COVID-19 spread, but public health workers won’t take a foot off the gas pedal just yet.

Fargo Cass Public Health is hiring at least seven contact tracers to do the investigatory work of determining close contacts of people who’ve tested positive for the novel coronavirus and making sure they quarantine themselves until they’re in the clear.

In doing so, the likelihood of exponential spread of the illness in the community is reduced.

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Larry Anenson, director of Health Promotion and Protection at FCPH, said the work is important.
“I keep telling the group in our call center, they’re the reason why our numbers are going down,” he said.

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According to the city’s employment ad, the contact tracer jobs pay $30 an hour for a 40 hour work week, accomplished in ten-hour shifts.

The jobs, not eligible for City of Fargo benefits, are expected to last up to six months.

A bachelor's degree in the community or public health, epidemiology, biology, nursing, or a related field is required.

The hirings are happening, in part, because public health employees who stepped in to help with contact tracing when the pandemic ramped up need to start turning their full attention back to their regular duties, Anenson said.

Several school nurses who are also assisting will presumably be returning to schools in the fall.

At its busiest point, Fargo Cass Public Health had as many as 35 people doing contact tracing.

Now, about 19 people are doing the work, Anenson said.

Amanda Weyrauch is a public health nurse who stepped in as a contact tracer.

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When not doing that, she’s a Fargo elementary school nurse and promoter of childhood immunizations, among other duties.

She said when summer weather arrived, it became more difficult to tell people exposed to COVID-19 they needed to stay home for two weeks or longer.

Recently, she’s had to tell people they shouldn’t go to a friend’s lake cabin, family gathering or birthday party, to avoid making other people sick.

While some people challenge the directive, which has the weight of an executive order from Gov. Doug Burgum, others fully understand it’s for the public good.

“Most people are really thankful they’re being checked on,” Weyrauch said.

At Fargo Cass Public Health, a field epidemiologist assigns positive COVID-19 cases to the contact tracers. Test results might come from Sanford Health, Essentia Health, or a mass testing event, such as those recently held at the Fargodome.

Under protocol set up by the North Dakota Department of Health, the contact tracers go back three days from the person’s positive test — asking where they’ve been, who they’ve had close contact with since.

Close contact, Anenson said, is being within six feet of someone for 15 minutes or longer.

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On the phone, the contact tracers try to build rapport with a stranger.

“Some are more complicated than others. Some people have very few contacts, some have many,” he said.

Contact tracers monitor people who’ve been exposed to COVID-19 either through daily phone calls or an online survey.

Across the river in Moorhead, seven people are doing contact tracing on a part-time basis.

Clay County Public Health Administrator Kathy McKay said they’ve been assisting the Minnesota Department of Health with cases in the county, but since numbers are somewhat steady, the state has been able to catch up.

She doesn’t envision needing more contact tracers this summer.

“If things ramp up in the fall, we can hire more,” McKay said.

Related Topics: CORONAVIRUSFARGO CASS PUBLIC HEALTHCLAY COUNTY PUBLIC HEALTH
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