MultCo takes on ‘extremely complicated’ contact tracing


For many counties, contact tracing isn’t just complex—it’s also expensive

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Tracing the coronavirus as it moves through a community has proven to be a difficult hoop for many counties to jump through on the path toward reopening. 

“What sounds pretty simple on its face is actually extremely complicated when you start pulling the system apart,” said Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler. 

Kim Toevs with the Multnomah County Health Department explained the process to city councilors and county commissioners during a virtual briefing on Thursday. 

Toevs said contact tracing actually requires a great deal of time and energy, including hiring the right people for the job. 

“The idea that we’ll just hire a bunch of telemarketers and we’ll just give them a 6-hour online training and throw them into this work is really not going to be an adequate way to staff the work,” said Toevs. 

Toevs said it’s important for county and city leaders to work together to help the process go smoothly and maintain the community’s trust. 

“That’s really important for folks to feel like we are not just trying to extract information from them as government,” Toevs said. “The top on the list of our priorities is to help them make sure they’ve got their questions answered; that they know where they can access health resources for themselves if they become more seriously ill with the illness.” 

What is needed for contact tracing in Oregon?

Contact tracing isn’t just complex: it’s also expensive. Multnomah County estimates the process will cost $25-35 million. County Chair Deborah Kafoury has said the county doesn’t have the funding it needs to properly carry out the job. But on Thursday, she focused on the progress that can be achieved when the county and city work together. 

“I really appreciate the partnership in good times,” she said. “But this pandemic has also shown the strength of our partnership together. As we’ve been saying, we’re all in it together—we need each other to get through this.” 

Interested in applying for a contact tracing job? Click here to learn more. 

Continuing Coverage: Coronavirus

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