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AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine is planning to gradually increase its contact tracing staff by up to 175 and the launch of a new reporting system to accompany increased testing for the new coronavirus, the Mills administration announced Tuesday.
The staffing increase will be made up of 50 volunteers who are expected to be trained starting next week and will work for two months, according to the Maine Department of Health and Human Services. The remainder would be hired based on how the virus progresses and could equal up to 125 additional tracers.
That would roughly quadruple the state’s current staffing of 30 full- and part-time employees dedicated to contact tracing, and is a quarter more than what Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s Director Nirav Shah said the state would look to hire earlier this month. They would be employed for up to a year.
The total cost of the expansion is expected to come in around $7.5 million and paid for by federal dollars, Health and Human Services Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew said Tuesday.
Contact tracing — the process of interviewing sick individuals to get a sense of where they might have gotten or spread the virus — is a critical part of the public health response to the virus absent a vaccine. Maine has recently ramped up its testing to allow for anyone with symptoms to get a test, but needs contact tracing to understand how the outbreak has progressed.
Maine has also launched a new monitoring tool, called the Sara Alert System, to track the virus. The system, developed by the nonprofit MITRE, allows individuals who have been diagnosed or potentially exposed to the virus to report symptoms electronically. That can help health care providers do contact tracing for their own employees. The state has logged 345 contacts in the new system since it launched last week.
Watch: Nirav Shah on tracing the origins of coronavirus cases in Maine