UT Well being Austin searching for greater than 100 contact tracers as COVID-19 surges in Central Texas

AUSTIN (KXAN) – With the Delta variant continuing to spread across central Texas, the contact tracing department at UT Health Austin needs help urgently. You are looking for more than 100 volunteer contact tracers and four other people as full-time employees.

Contact tracing helps stop the spread of COVID-19 by identifying outbreaks and warning people of exposure before they spread the virus to others. The role also includes helping people who may have been exposed to COVID-19 connect to resources like tests and vaccines.

The department needs more people to help after reducing operations while case numbers have been low. During the January COVID-19 surge, UT Health Austin had around 120 volunteer contact tracers, down from around 30 now.

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“As everyone knows, the summer was very quiet,” said Jennifer Sarchet-Morgan, operations manager, contact tracing at UT Health Austin. “So we definitely want to improve that.”

The department would ideally want to have closer to 125-150 volunteer contact tracers to handle the high number of reported COVID-19 cases. The volunteers are asked to work approximately eight hours a week. The position is virtual.

“We urgently need this support to try to catch up on what is happening in the community and start the school year,” said Sarchet-Morgan.

They are also hiring four full-time employees to meet the January staff level.

JD Lewis is one of those people. He started volunteering in 2020 after losing much of his job with the onset of the pandemic. He has since worked his way up to a full-time position at UT Austin Health.

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“I was trying to figure out what my next step would be and I felt like that way I could have a significant impact on the community as I figured things out,” said Lewis. “I’ve found that I really love the job.”

Lewis says the role has changed over the course of the pandemic. Recently, he says, each case has taken longer to investigate.

“We see a larger number of contacts per case on average and that’s because people have become a little more relaxed,” said Lewis. Because of the availability of vaccines, the waiver of mandates, and the overall state of the pandemic, people are more comfortable being on the go, he suspects. This means that sick people make more contacts than before.

UT Health Austin’s contact tracing department does much of the contact tracing for UT Austin students, but operates under the auspices of Austin Public Health, which conducts contact tracing in a broader sense. In a COVID-19 Q&A on Friday, APH chief epidemiologist Janet Pichette confirmed that contact tracing is being weighed down by the number of COVID-19 cases reported in Austin-Travis County in the past month.

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“You worked pretty hard seven days a week to make that happen,” Pichette said. “We also tell people that if you are on a positive case, it is best to notify all of your close contacts to ensure they are quarantined.”

753 new COVID-19 cases were reported on Friday, according to the Austin-Travis County’s COVID-19 dashboard.

Visit the UT Health Austin website to sign up or find more information about volunteer contact tracer requirements.

You can apply for the full-time position on the UT Health Austin vacancies page.

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