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San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara counties looking to grow staff to help with contact tracing of COVID-19

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Posted at 11:48 PM, May 04, 2020

UPDATE (11:03 a.m. 05-05-20) The San Luis Obispo County Public Health Department says at this time, they will be using existing county staff and volunteers to fill the extra contact tracing roles in their department.
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ORIGINAL STORY: California Governor Gavin Newsom says contact tracing is the key to reopening the state.

It's the process of identifying and tracking people who have had contact with an infected coronavirus patient.

Newsom says 23 counties in the state have contact tracing capabilities; San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara Counties are included in that count.

The governor now wants to add 10,000 jobs to help increase the capabilities of learning who has coronavirus and who might have it next.

So how does contact tracing work?

"The same people have been working six, seven days a week. They wait until the laboratory information comes out from our public health lab. If that's into the evening, [the nurses] stay and they call people same day. [Then], they get contact information elicited from 100 percent of the cases we have and begin to call those contacts and find out what their situation is in terms of illness and work setting," explained Dr. Penny Borenstein, County Health Officer for San Luis Obispo County.

As part of Newsom's plan to increase contact tracing capabilities, he hopes to hire and train 10,000 people in the immediate future, adding 20,000 more jobs after that.

Both San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara Counties are now looking to grow their staffs.

"We'd like to bolster our team further with additional nurses; and these can be nurses who can work remote or in the community. We're still looking for some medical assistants, drivers and general operation support, and we will always welcome volunteers to join our efforts," said Dr. Van Do-Reynoso, Director of the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department.

But what does it mean to be on the receiving end of the county's contact tracing?

Most people have to stay in quarantine for 14 days while monitoring their symptoms, although there are exceptions.

"Particularly in some of our health sector or first responders, if they are critically needed at their place of work, they are allowed while they are asymptomatic to return to work but to use a face covering or mask during the entire 14 day period," Dr. Borenstein said.

Governor Newsom says training for these new workers is a 20 hour course that involves 12 hours of online instruction and eight hours of in-person instruction. The first training is expected to go online this Wednesday.

The Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors will be further discussing the added contact tracing workforce in their meeting Tuesday.

The meeting starts virtually on the county's website at 9 a.m.

The application for working for both counties is not yet live on their websites.