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Thousands of Michiganders to help with contact tracing to help slow the spread of COVID-19


Thousands of Michiganders have volunteered to help with contact tracing to help slow the spread of COVID-19. (WWMT/File)
Thousands of Michiganders have volunteered to help with contact tracing to help slow the spread of COVID-19. (WWMT/File)
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The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services has recruited more than 2,200 volunteers to amp up contact tracing statewide.

Contact tracing is a way state health officials can warn people who may have come into contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19.

Joe Coyle, manager of the MDHHS Communicable Disease Division, said the idea is to stop people who might be unknowingly infected from spreading the virus.

“I did the math on this yesterday, and it could be, like, two million phone calls would have to be made if each case had at least five contacts, and all five contacts needed 14 phone calls," Coyle said. "We know we need a larger workforce. It’s really going to take an army.”

During contact tracing, health officials speak with the infected individual, who tells them what family members or friends they might have seen in person, if they were still going to work and what stores they went to and when.

Health officials then reach out to potentially infected individuals to let them know what signs and symptoms they need to watch out for, and if they need to be tested or just self-quarantined.

Starting Tuesday, April 21, 2020, MDHHS expanded COVID-19 testing from health care to grocery and food service workers.

All essential workers who are still going to work can now be tested, whether they are showing symptoms or not.

With testing increasing, Coyle said contact tracing would become even more important, and he hoped they could get the volunteers to work by early next week.

Coyle said privacy is a top concern, and everyone’s information will be confidential. Your name will not be linked to your test results or where you have traveled.

Coyle warned against giving anyone your social security number or banking information. He said contact tracers want to ask about symptoms and confirm your identity.

“We’re not going to be asking for a lot of detailed information. It’s name, maybe county of residence and age to confirm that we are talking to the right person," Coyle said.

If you do receive a call but you’re skeptical, call your local health department directly to verify.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said in a COVID-19 news conference on Monday, April 20 that widespread testing and contact tracing would help slow the spread of COVID-19.

“This workforce will increase the speed and thoroughness of contact tracing statewide and give Michiganders an important way to contribute to crisis response," Whitmer said.

Whitmer also said she is encouraging Michiganders to answer calls from numbers they might not recognize, because it could be a volunteer trying to contact you.

“I know a lot of you don’t answer calls when you see an unknown number calling you but I encourage you to answer that call if it comes it could be a volunteer calling you to tell you you’ve come into contact with someone who’s tested positive for COVID-19," Whitmer said.

The state initially contracted two companies to help with contact tracing information: Great Lakes Community Engagement, a firm that specializes in outreach campaigns to engage citizens, and Every Action VAN, a voter/individual contact platform used by nonprofits that provides software to organize and track information and contacts.

On Tuesday, some GOP lawmakers raised concerns about Every Action VAN, saying the company is heavily involved in democratic political campaigns.

A spokesperson for Whitmer said on Tuesday evening that Every Action VAN was no longer being used.

“This contract should have been approved by the state emergency operations center. This issue is being corrected and a different vendor and software platform will be selected by the SEOC," Tiffany Brown, Whitmer's spokesperson, said. "The state is committed to ensuring this important tracing work can begin quickly to help save lives, while also ensuring that public health data is safe and secure.”

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