Tarrant County leaders have approved a proposal to hire temporary workers to help with local contact tracing as coronavirus cases continue to climb.
The Tarrant County Commissioners Court approved the plan unanimously Tuesday, one week after a similar plan was rejected. Those who originally voted against it, including Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley, said he wanted more information before they signed off the motion.
The newly approved plan would hire up to 186 temporary workers. The proposal last week requested up to 270 workers.
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“It was much better defined with regards to where we were going to put these people, exactly what they were going to do,” Whitley said.
Tarrant County administrator G.K. Maneius said it will cost about $14 million to implement the plan. The funding comes from the CARES Act.
“I did not do a good enough job explaining to the court all the things we have done in preparation for this,” Maneius said, referring to the original proposal.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, contact tracing for COVID-19 typically involves interviewing people who have tested positive to identify everyone they had close contact with during the time they may have been infectious. The process also includes notifying contacts of their potential exposure and referring contacts for testing, followed by monitoring and connecting contacts with services they might need during the self-quarantine period.
“We have talked to a couple of private vendors to do the upfront contacting. That’s either to reach out through social media, through text messages, telephone calls possibly, and tell them who they need to contact at public health,” Maneius told commissioners. “That’s very important because that provides the beginning of this entire chain that we need to do. We’ve talked with two vendors so far. We talked to one vendor that is currently doing that for Harris County. We’re also talking to one vendor that is doing extensive work in our joint EOC.”
Maneius said the county has already identified already existing office buildings where the employees could work and many may be able to work from home. There are also 250 laptops already purchased by the county, which workers can use.
“Rather than going out and hire the entire 186, we want to use that as somewhat of a ceiling. As the order itself says, that if you also offer the county administrator to initiate these whenever... Public Health will come talk to the administrator's office. We’ll work through if we need them, then we’ll authorize increments that we can hire,” he said. “I think this is a good plan. It’s not one where we’re going to go out and hire all these people, but it gives staff the checks and balances at the staff level to move forward on a continuous basis to address the issues we’re dealing with testing and reporting.”
Whitley said logistics were still being finalized. However, he wanted to ensure the money will be spent wisely.
“What I’ve asked for is some sort of report that would include the data – you know, maybe on the number of positive folks who we have talked with. The number of contacts that we’ve been able to communicate with. I think everybody acknowledges as we have reached this substantial spread number that it may be more difficult to identify and reach out and contact these folks,” he said. “If we don’t begin to see some of these immediate results, then I think we’re going to have to step back and maybe make another plan because I’m not willing to spend millions of dollars for somebody to keep dialing the phone but not to talk to somebody.”