Hundreds more training to ramp up contact tracing in Washington state

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SEATTLE -- Whenever you leave your house, health experts want you to keep a mental log of who you are around so that contact tracing is possible.

The idea is to box in the virus quickly by telling people to isolate themselves if they were in close contact with a person with COVID-19. The state says no one will find out the identity of the positive person.

The Washington Department of Health says there are 700 people trained ready to do contact tracing with 800 more in the pipeline to become investigators. Secretary of Health John Wiesman says many of those newly trained will be from the National Guard.

The endeavor will certainly be a challenging one, especially if cases go back up.

That’s why many believe a new kind of tracking system by Google and Apple is promising.

The tech giants are expected to launch an app so governments can track people through the use of their phones.

If you opt into the program, you would be alerted if you came in close contact with anyone who tested positive for the virus.

You wouldn't find out who has the virus, but it's an unprecedented way to notify people quickly.

The ACLU says there are privacy concerns over this kind of Bluetooth technology. The group says it’s important to have specific parameters in place.

“A list of principles that it's non-punitive, that it's voluntary, that it's auditable, that it has an exit date in mind,” Jennifer Lee with ACLU said.

The tech companies say the tracking technology would cease after the pandemic.

Mayor Jenny Durkan says privacy concerns are not lost on policymakers.

“I think what will end up in Seattle is a combination and a hybrid. We will both have an electronic means for people to opt-in and get monitored as well as having to have a huge number of people do the contact tracing,” Durkan said.

As of Wednesday, Wiesman says the Department of Health will not be using Google and Apple’s app but they will be looking into it further.

“We do think it could be another added tool in our toolkit to help us do our work,” Wiesman said.

The state says by the second week of May they hope to have 1,500 people trained to do contact tracing.  Hundreds are already doing the work with many local health departments.

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