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Shaheen Seeks Funding to Ramp-Up Contact Tracing

14 leading U.S. Senators are seeking $8 billion to strengthen America’s contact tracing infrastructure and boost contact tracing workforce in all 50 states and U.S. territories 

(Washington, DC) – As scientists worldwide race for a cure for novel coronavirus (COVID-19), local efforts, including robust contact tracing, are key to stopping the spread of the virus and safely reopening the economy. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) joined a group of 13 U.S. Senators, led by Senator Jack Reed (D-RI), calling for Congress to include $8 billion in new funding for contact tracing initiatives in the next COVID-19 response legislation. Funding would be used to help states and localities recruit, hire, and train contact tracers and deploy voluntary digital tools that can integrate data to quickly alert people who have crossed paths with a newly diagnosed COVID-19 patient. 

Contact tracers are a combination of disease detectives and social workers who can swiftly track down and alert people who have been exposed to a confirmed COVID-19 case and request they self-quarantine and connect them to testing or treatment if needed.  Contact tracers must be trained to interview patients, do investigative work, and monitor those at risk with daily check-ins.  The work is labor intensive, but mostly can be done remotely by people working from home. 

The 14 Senators penned a joint letter to Senate leadership calling for $8 billion to strengthen America’s contact tracing workforceThe Senators wrote that this funding is critical: “to enable states to quickly diagnose patients and get them into appropriate care, as well as help us better understand the spread of the disease, and provide a path forward towards eventually reopening the economy.” 

In addition to recruiting, hiring, and training a capable, effective contact tracing workforce, the Senators also note the need to invest in technology: “Further, we must encourage the use of technology to aid in this effort, without infringing on personal civil liberties.  Management of public health data collected in this manner should continue to follow established protocols, whereby state and local entities serve as the primary data collectors and stewards of this information, which should only be shared as aggregated, anonymized data with the CDC for purposes of public health surveillance, and not with law enforcement or national security agencies.  We must provide sufficient resources to partner with the private sector to develop and deploy voluntary apps to improve data collection, support contact tracing, and ultimately help public health officials better control the spread of the virus.  Additionally, such technology efforts should allow individuals to accurately and quickly receive alerts regarding potential exposure to COVID-19, improving rates of self-quarantine.” 

In order to begin to safely relax stay-at-home orders for communities nationwide, public health experts believe the U.S. needs hundreds of thousands of contact tracers.  The Association of State and Territorial Health Officials; Association of Public Health Laboratories; Council on State and Territorial Epidemiologists; National Association of County and City Health Officials, and others are urging Congress to provide at least $7.6 billion in its next emergency supplemental bill to expand the scale of disease investigation specialists and contact tracing workforce. 

Shaheen supported the $25 billion to increase COVID-19 testing capacity and make an initial investment in contact tracing in the recently passed Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act.  However, contact tracing at the state level has been uneven to date, and the Senators are calling for a coordinated strategy with the resources to match. Of that $25 billion, New Hampshire will receive at least $17 million.  

Full text of the letter is available here.

Senator Shaheen has been adamant about the need for increased testing capabilities. In March, Shaheen, with the state’s congressional delegation and the Governor, urged the President to speed up the distribution of critical medical supplies, including swabs for diagnostic testing. Senators Shaheen and Hassan called on Vice President Pence and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to conduct a national inventory of COVID-19 testing supplies, publicly release data on testing results and provide a detailed plan and timeline for addressing future shortages and gaps in the testing supply chain. Senator Shaheen recently called on FEMA to prioritize COVID-19 testing kits for New Hampshire in reaction to the agency’s inadequate response to the state’s needs, which included sending 15 testing machines but only 120 testing kits for the entire state.