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As need for them grows, some ND contact tracers find people who test positive don’t comply with isolation orders

The North Dakota Department of Health says it needs to hire more contact tracers as cases rise
Published: Aug. 14, 2020 at 7:14 PM CDT
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FARGO, N.D. (Valley News Live) - If you’ve tested positive for COVID-19, you’ve most likely talked to a contact tracer.

Luke Unger works for the North Dakota Department of Health as a case manager and he assigns cases to investigators who notify people they’ve come in contact with an infected person.

“A big issue is just non-compliance and people not really caring,” Unger said.

According to the health department, the increase in cases of the novel coronavirus in North Dakota is requiring a need for more contact tracers.

Unger said some don’t take COVID-19 seriously.

“We’ve had people attending events while they know they are a case and they’ve tested positive, and they just do it. Just because,” Unger said.

Sargam Ghimire is a contact tracer and public health student at North Dakota State University. She said she has called law enforcement before on a coronavirus infected homeless person who wasn’t complying.

“It’s really a challenge to deal with like young people and try to make them understand,” Ghimire said. “And some people will say, ‘yeah I’ll do it.’ But, they don’t end up isolating and still hanging out with friends.”

We obtained a copy of the 59 page manual contact tracers received from the health department. It states that they may choose to call the city or county attorney or attorney general’s office, if someone is non-compliant.

Contact tracers also sign a non-disclosure agreement.

“The hardest thing is narrowing down where they’ve possibly may have gotten it,” Katarina Domitrovich, a public health master’s student at the University of North Dakota, said. “A lot of it is community spread at this point or they have had contact with a confirmed case.”

Back in May, the health department told us all contact tracers have a health background.

“[Our] preferred qualification, as you might state it ,are those with a health background or a health related degree but I have hired students that are not from a health related degree,” Ashley Evenson of the University of North Dakota said .

Evenson is the program manager for the contact tracing program at UND. She said she has contact tracers with a social work or communications background.

Evenson is looking to hire at least 30-40 contact tracers from UND in part-time roles.

The state health department said its preference remains that contact tracers have a health background and most of their contact tracers still do have a tie to health care.

However, the agency added that the increase in COVID-19 cases is causing an increased need for contact tracers. Contact tracing is vital to help quickly identify close contacts to slow the spread.

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