As U.S. unemployment soars to historic levels, the hottest job of the year could be a lifesaver: contact tracing. Containing the coronavirus as the economy gradually reopens has created an urgent need for hundreds of thousands of people trained to identify infected individuals and track down anyone and everyone they could have exposed to the virus.
In the absence of a federal plan, some city and state health departments are already seeking to fill thousands of these positions. Experts estimate that between 100,000 and 300,000 contact tracers — who can earn up to $65,000 per year — will be needed nationwide based on state populations and projected COVID-19 infection rates.
“I do think that it’s a fantastic job for people who have been furloughed, and it’s something that people can be trained to do,” said Roger Shapiro, a professor of medicine at the Harvard School of Public Health. “It takes some training, but it’s not impossible to train almost anybody with reasonable social skills, who can work off a script, begin a conversation with people, convey a few key messages and collect data,” he said.