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Breaking the Chain of Coronavirus Infection


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Maryland wanted an experienced partner who could rapidly deploy a technically sophisticated solution. To my knowledge, it’s the first instance of a state hiring a firm like NORC for contact tracing—we can apply the best practices of a large-scale data collection to an urgent public health response.

David Cotton, VP
Public Health

Contact tracing involves identifying those people a person with a contagious disease may have exposed and sharing appropriate care and self-isolation information with them. During a pandemic, it is an essential part of breaking the chain of infection. That’s why Maryland Governor Larry Hogan made contact tracing an essential component of Maryland Strong, his administration’s plan to carefully re-open the state after its COVID-19 stay-at-home order. But launching a contact tracing program with the necessary speed and thoroughness requires one thing that most state and municipal health departments lack—a ready staff of skilled contact tracers and a large-scale calling capacity that will allow the effort to hit the ground running. NORC’s data collection and public health expertise—and our state-of-the-art telephone interviewing infrastructure—made us an ideal contact tracing partner for Maryland.

Deploying a Thorough, Carefully Managed Tracing Effort
Using lists provided by the Maryland Department of Health, NORC contact tracers are calling up to 1,000 newly infected residents per day. For each person they call, the contact tracers:

  • Ensure they have the health and social supports they need

  • Find out the names and contact information of people with whom they have had close contact

  • Notify those contacts of their exposure, check for symptoms of COVID-19, refer them to COVID-19 testing, inform them of the need to self-quarantine, and provide referrals or resources as appropriate

For each of the newly infected residents we call, we expect to identify and reach out to as many as 10 close contacts, so our call volume could be as high as 11,000 people per day.

NORC’s contact tracers will quadruple Maryland’s existing COVID-19 surveillance capacity. Our contact tracer recruiting efforts yielded more than 750 candidates in the first 72 hours and more than 2,500 in less than two weeks. NORC’s contact tracers will be an important pillar in Maryland’s COVID-19 recovery plan, which also includes expanded testing capacity, increased hospital surge capacity, and an increased supply of personal protective equipment.

In addition, NORC is advising Maryland on the integration of technology and telephony to optimize the calling efficiency and productivity, including use of SMS, email, and integrated voice response, to minimize respondent burden. We’re also managing script development, training development, and the recruiting, hiring, and supervision of Maryland-based staff.