When restaurants begin to open again once Washington reaches Phase 2 in our reopening strategy, guests will have their names, phone numbers, emails, and the time they visited logged by the restaurant. That's contact tracing, baby.
Washington is transitioning from one strategy to another, Gov. Jay Inslee said in a press conference on Thursday, after taking off his maroon (or burgundy?) face mask. The contact tracing effort is an attempt to "Box In The Virus," by working backward to figure out which people were in contact with an infected person.
As Washington's economy starts dusting off its cobwebs, the chances of resurgence are high. South Korea, China, and Germany, countries that seemed to snuff out their outbreaks diligently, are seeing new clusters of the virus. In Seoul, a club-goer jumpstarted a wave of new cases. Officials are encouraging anyone who was at the same club as him to get tested.
That's the importance of contact tracing. Inslee has assembled a team of 1,371 contact tracers. He said last month that he aimed to have a team of 1,500. There will likely be more hiring. Currently, 351 tracers are from the National Guard, 390 are from the Department of Licensing, and 630 are state and local health professionals.
This marks the "transition from one strategy to another," Inslee said. The way this works is that if someone shows symptoms of COVID-19 (cough, fever, difficulty breathing, sore throat, loss of sense of smell, etc.) they should self-isolate and then get tested. A member of the contact tracing team is expected to contact anyone who receives a positive test result within 24 hours. The interviewer will ask who the person was in close contact with and contact those people within 48 hours because "this has to be very quick to be effective," Inslee said. Anyone who was in contact with an infected person will also have to isolate, as will anyone they live with.
Inslee stressed that the state is working out ways to make sure privacy is paramount. These are necessary precautions, Inslee explained.
Things that a contact tracing interview will not include:
This contact-tracing initiative is a statewide extension of what local public health districts have done for other diseases like tuberculosis or AIDS but on a much bigger scale. Inslee said it's the "largest in the state’s history."
Obviously, this works in concert with access to testing, which will become even more critical when businesses start opening up, Inslee said.
John Wiesman, the Washington state secretary of health, said on Thursday that the federal government promised Washington 580,000 swabs and viral transport media in May and again in June. They got 34,000 last week and are expecting more "any time now."
"Testing is a key component to move forward and to open the economy," Wiesman said.
Gradually, Washington counties are shifting out of Phase 1 to Phase 2 on Inslee's Big Dial for Reopening the Economy. Currently, eight counties are in Phase 2 and can have small (5 people or fewer) social gatherings and go to restaurants that are at 50 percent capacity, and other, limited things. Inslee said that "other counties with roughly 75,000 people and no new cases will become eligible in the next few days."
The rest of us won't even get to Phase 2 unless we comply with current orders. So wear your masks, people!