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News

Here's How New Jersey's COVID-19 Contact Tracing System Will Work

The roles of contact tracers are taking on a new urgency as New Jersey gears up to enter Stage 2 of its economic restart and recovery next week. Photo Credit: Holy Name Health
Privacy is key for NJ's contact tracing system. Photo Credit: NJ Office of the Governor

The roles of contact tracers are taking on a new urgency as New Jersey gears up to enter Stage 2 of its economic restart and recovery next week.

"It's not a question of whether or not the virus comes back," Murphy said, "but what are we going to do for it? And contact tracing is a huge element in our preparedness."

There are already 900 contact tracers working across New Jersey -- and 1600 more will soon be joining them, Gov. Phil Murphy said at Wednesday's briefing.

Contact tracing, along with hand-washing, mask-wearing, testing and social distancing, "are our only protections" from COVID-19, Murphy said.

The system stands on four, main pillars (from Gov. Murphy's Twitter page):

  • Consent: NJ tracers will only contact those individuals whose names they’re given by someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 "There will be no wild-goose chases or rogue investigations," Murphy said.
  • Transparency: Tracers will be clear with how any contact information they’re given is used and handled. Contact tracers will be trained to only ask for the names and phone numbers of those they need to be in touch with.
  • Limits: Tracers will know the limits of what they need to do their jobs, and the limits of how that information will be used. "We will not tolerate any tracer who steps outside those professional bounds," the governor said.
  • Security: Contact tracers will be properly trained to prevent the leaking of any information provided to them, and the CommCare platform’s encryption and security functions will provide an additional level of confidence against outsiders.

The contact tracers' jobs are to identify people who’ve been in close contact with a confirmed COVID-19 case in the days immediately before their test result, then inform individuals who that person came in contact with.

Those individuals will be urged to get tested and self-quarantine to prevent further spread of the virus.

"Each step of our restart and recovery will be accompanied by the on-boarding of new contact tracers," the governor said.

"As part of their training, contact tracers will follow a full curriculum that includes a focus on interview skills, ethics, and privacy."

They'll be trained by Rutgers School of Public Health along with local health departments. The training process is a full curriculum focusing on interview skills, ethics and privacy.

More than 50,000 people have already applied for the positions on the state's coronavirus website.

"We’re creating a broad public awareness campaign to ensure our residents know the vital importance of testing and contact tracing," Murphy concluded.

"We’re working within our communities to establish and expand trust, and engage directly with residents and community leaders."

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