IU’s Fairbanks School gets $10.5M from Indianapolis for more than 300 contact tracers

By Shari Rudavsky | Indianapolis Star
July 23, 2020

Read the story and watch an explainer video about contact tracing at the source.

In a move aimed at stopping the spread of the coronavirus in Indianapolis, the city has given the Indiana University Fairbanks School of Public Health $10.5 million to hire and manage more than 300 remote and field-based contact tracers.

The full- and part-time employees will reach out to people who have been in close contact with others who have confirmed coronavirus infections, advising them to quarantine and offering them help to do so.

Public health officials view contact tracing as a critical piece in response to the coronavirus, along with testing and steps that individuals can take such as wearing a mask, physically distancing and practicing good hand hygiene.

Three weeks ago, Marion County mandated the use of masks in public, but throughout this month, the average daily number of cases has only risen. Mandating masks, however, is expected to drive down cases over time, not immediately.

“Increasing our ability to quickly and effectively engage in contact tracing can help us to preserve the progress we have made and better address outbreaks when they do occur,” Mayor Joe Hogsett said in a news release.

Close contacts are defined as anyone who was within 6 feet of the infected individual for at least 15 minutes. Contact tracers inform those of their potential risk but do not share the name of the infected person.

If reached in time, people who could go on to become infectious themselves will be told to stay at home, reducing the chance they will transmit the virus.

A few months ago, the state announced a $43 million contract with Maximus, a private firm, to outsource contact tracing across Indiana. Under the contract, remote tracers would handle the majority of cases, turning cases over to local health departments if they could not readily reach the infected person.

But some community activists said that in order for contact tracing to succeed, those reaching out to the infected and their close contacts would need to come from the communities they were serving. Faith in Indiana, a nonprofit network of clergy and others, advocated for state and local health officials to hire people from the communities in which they would be working to ensure trust.

Fairbanks officials said in a release that they will be looking to hire full-time contact tracers fluent in Spanish, French, Burmese and Russian as well those who have familiarity with the customs of different cultures to reach the city’s immigrant and non-English speaking communities.

Funding to hire the contract tracers came from the almost $80 million in federal coronavirus relief aid the City-Council earmarked in June to help residents. The jobs will run through the end of the year and once available will post on the Jobs at IU website.


Contact IndyStar reporter Shari Rudavsky at shari.rudavsky@indystar.com. Follow her on Facebook and on Twitter: @srudavsky.

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