In summary

What’s it like to try to track the spread of a coronavirus outbreak? CalMatters goes inside the world of Los Angeles County’s busy contact tracers.

Health experts cite it as an important tool to contain outbreaks of coronavirus: contact tracing, in which health workers trace where people who test positive for the virus have been and whom they might have exposed, and then contact those people to alert them and help them quarantine.

As California’s counties struggle to keep up with the ballooning demand for contact tracing, state Health and Human Services secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly acknowledged this week that “at the level of transmission that we’re seeing across the state, even a very robust contact tracing program in every single county will have a hard time reaching out to every single case. ” Yet the county with the greatest number of cases, Los Angeles, has thus far maintained a relatively robust contact tracing program. And to coax those hesitant to cooperate, the county just announced a pilot program to give $20 gift cards to people who agree to be interviewed by a contact tracer.

“This has gone beyond anything I’ve ever done,” said contact tracer Victor Scott. “The fear or anxiety that people may have when they’re on their phone — or even anger…”

What’s it like on the front lines for those tracers? CalMatters talked to them, and to their trainers, about how it’s working:

YouTube video

California’s COVID contact tracing efforts vary widely from county to county.

In May, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that the state would team with University of California experts at both the Los Angeles and San Francisco campuses to train phalanx of 20,000 people to test, trace and isolate people who may have been infected. He also promised state help, and said the state met its goal of training 10,000 tracers by July 1, but reports have indicated most of those workers have yet to be deployed to counties in desperate need of help.

Thus far the state has not been among the very few to embrace contact tracing apps, despite a highly publicized collaboration between Apple and Google to develop such technology. Instead it’s opted for a human approach.

CalMatters COVID-19 coverage, translation and distribution is supported by generous grants from the Penner Family Foundation, Blue Shield of California Foundation, the California Wellness Foundation and the California Health Care Foundation.

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