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Photograph: Time Out New York/Tom Hislop

How to get hired as a contact tracer in NYC and what the job entails

Everything you need to know if you're interested in contact tracing in New York

By
Shaye Weaver
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There's a new team in town racing to stop COVID-19 in its tracks so New York can start returning to normal.

NYC has hired about 1,700 people as contact tracers to identify people who have been exposed to the virus and call them with instructions on how to quarantine themselves.

In order to start phase one of reopening, New York regions need to have 30 contact tracers per 1,000 residents, among six other metrics to fulfill.

RECOMMENDED: When will New York City reopen and what are the latest social distancing rules?

Now, with 1,700 of them and 2,500 expected by the first half of June, Mayor Bill de Blasio says we could start the reopening process by mid-June. 

He added that the city is "ready to go to 5,000 to 10,000 [contact tracers] if that's what will help us beat back the disease."

But how do you become a contact tracer? How much to do they make? And what does it entail? Here's what you need to know.

What exactly do you do as a contact tracer?

According to propublica.org, it's a mix of things. While you track down people who have come into contact with the disease, you are "part disease detective, part social work, part therapist," Dr. Emily Gurley, an associate scientist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, told the site.

Gurley is the instructor of the online course on contact tracing, which is required for all New York contact tracers.

She told propublica that the hardest parts of the job are the heavy conversations when delivering difficult news, like when you have to tell someone to isolate at home when they are the sole breadwinner for the family.

Ultimately, however, the job comes down to using a web platform to call all the contacts of anyone diagnosed with COVID-19 to determine their exposure, assess their symptoms, refer them for testing and instruct them on how to isolate themselves. They follow set scripts provided by the state and work with a case investigator from NYC Health + Hospitals, which oversees the city’s 11 public hospitals. Doing this keeps an outbreak from happening.

How do you become a contact tracer?

To become a contact tracer, you'll need to pass the six-hour, free online course from John Hopkins. 

You also need to have these:

  • A high school diploma or equivalent. Some college training is preferred.
  • Must be 18 years of age or older. 
  • Must be a New York State resident.
  • The ability to speak, read, and write English clearly and concisely. (Fluency in a second or multiple languages would be a plus.)
  • Ability to exhibit a professional, positive attitude and independent work ethic.
  • Excellent interpersonal skills required and ability to interact professionally with culturally diverse individuals during a time of crisis and distress.
  • Ability to show empathy to distressed individuals and assist with identifying solutions to problems identified.
  • Excellent organizational and communication skills.
  • Sound judgment required.
  • Ability to handle confidential information with discretion and professionalism.
  • Proficiency with computers and data entry into electronic tracking systems.

You also need to pass a background check and own a phone (a headset is preferred), computer and WiFi.

You can apply online here. Preference is given to nurses and others with experience in public health, according to the job listing.

What the application doesn't say is that you'll need a basic understanding of the transmission of infectious diseases and the ability to communicate clearly and with empathy, according to the Wall Street Journal.

"You have to build rapport with people," Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, a vice dean at the Johns Hopkins, told the WSJ. "Somebody with a high-school diploma who is very good at talking with people, and personable, and able to understand transmission, could be a great contact tracer."

Where do you perform the job and who do you report to?

The job is totally remote, so you work from home but report to the case investigator at the public hospital system, NYC Health + Hospitals, which oversees the city’s 11 public hospitals.

What are the hours?

Tracers are required to work at least 20 hours per week. 

The contact center is open seven days a week between 8am and 8pm, which means evening and weekend work may be required. 

How much money do they make?

The job pays between $17 and $22 an hour with benefits to full-time employees.

How does it work?

New York City is using servers and voice and text platforms by Twilio to keep track of and connect with patients, according to Mashable. Twilio, which also runs communications for both Uber and Lyft, Airbnb, Instacart, and Netflix, will be used to send automated texts with a link to a symptom survey to patients and their contacts for 14 days during their quarantines as well.

How long does the job last?

The contact tracing job is considered "temporary" with a one-year engagement expected, but that could be extended.

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