UCSF Launches Statewide Contact Tracing Training Program

The University of California, San Francisco is launching a new statewide program to retain thousands of civil servants so they can become "contact tracers," saying the surge in manpower will be needed to reopen the state safely.

These investigators are trained to track the spread of COVID-19, who has been in contact with someone who’s been confirmed as coronavirus-positive and prevent further infections.

It is labor-intensive work. To confront the pandemic, an army of such workers is needed.

"There’s 10,000 people that (Gov. Gavin Newsom) talks about," UCSF Professor of Epidemiology Dr. George Rutherford told KCBS Radio. "That’s the first batch."

Dr. Rutherford is helping to lead a new program that aims to train thousands of new contact tracers each week.

"The training is, first of all, understanding the biology of the disease and the epidemiology of the disease," Dr. Rutherford said.

It’s also getting comfortable making a lot of cold calls, which include personal questions about symptoms and recent contact history.

"We also do role plays, we have sample scripts that people can work from in smaller work groups and at the end of 20 hours they’re actually quite competent at doing this," Dr. Rutherford said.

The program focuses on civil servants whose jobs have been disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic.

The first batch of 500 people started their training Friday. State figures suggest local health departments throughout California now have about 3,000 total contact tracers, but Gov. Newsom wants that number to surge many times over.

You can hear more about the work that health officials are carrying out to help prepare the Bay Area to reopen during this week’s KCBS In Depth.