By Rachel Becker, CalMatters

gavin 923y592375The Newsom administration has teamed with two universities to train more than 3,000 employees per week to become coronavirus detectives tracing the spread of the disease throughout California.

Starting Wednesday, the University of California, Los Angeles and the University of California, San Francisco will provide 20 hours of online and in-person training to state employees selected for the program.

The new “training academy,” as Gov. Gavin Newsom called it, is part of an effort to build an army of 20,000 people to test, trace and isolate people who may have been infected.

In addition, a new statewide database will help local health departments trace infected people and their contacts as they travel through the state. 

“I’m very excited about that innovation,” said Madera County public health director Sara Bosse. “It is something that we have needed for a decade in California, because we often have cases in which contacts cross counties for any disease.” 

The process of tracking the virus as it spreads from person to person is called contact tracing. And experts agree that it is critical to quashing new outbreaks of the novel coronavirus before they start — particularly as efforts to reopen the state provide more opportunities for infection.

“As people move more, we increase the risk for people to get sick,” Sonia Angell, California Department of Public Health director and State Health Officer, said in a live stream. “If people get sick, we want to identify those individuals very early, and then make sure that all of their contacts are also identified.” 

Right now, 23 of California’s 61 local health departments are actively tracking exposed contacts as the coronavirus spreads from person to person, according to Newsom. Nearly 3,000 investigators interview people who test positive, identify the people they’ve interacted with and notify them that they need to isolate or quarantine.

But the National Association of County and City Health Officials estimate that the nation will need 30 contact tracers for every 100,000 Americans to handle the pandemic. Which means that California’s 2,845 contact tracers fall far short of the 12,000 needed to track the virus through California’s population of nearly 40 million

To that end, Newsom announced plans to redeploy state employees with “the right kind of background cultural sensitivity, cultural competency, different language skills, a health mindset.”

Madera County’s Bosse said she hasn’t yet seen the training modules. But she said that training resources have been a real need across the state, although her county has adjusted. 

“Our contact-tracing resources, as you know, on a regular day, are quite small,” Bosse said — which means few people are generally available to help with training. “At this point, we now have a collection of folks that have significant skills and could easily do shadowing and on-the-job training.” 

The new online training program could help standardize contact-tracing state-wide, she said. “It’s comforting to know that people would at least have a similar approach.”

Newsom and Angell did not say how they would provide in-person instruction, given public health recommendations for physical distancing.  

They also did not say when the new contact tracers would be deployed. But when they are, local health authorities can request staffing help from the state,  according to Angell.

The new contact-tracing platform the state announced Monday will sync up with California’s existing digital disease surveillance platform, and contact tracers can use it to check in on people’s symptoms through texts, chat, emails, and phone automation, according to Angell. Angell emphasized that the database will focus on health information and will be kept confidential. 

Bosse hopes the new digital database will help streamline contact-tracing for cases and contacts that cross county borders. 

Still, there’s one major caveat to the state’s efforts to bolster contact-tracing, she said: people must be willing to cooperate, particularly if cooperating means missing work and wages — and potentially putting friends, family, and coworkers out of work for two weeks, too. 

“With so many people who are unemployed or underemployed at this point, once they have the ability to be employed, are they going to be willing to be tested?” Bosse asks. 

“Wage replacement, so ability to be paid sick leave, is going to be super important — or people are not going to agree to be tested, and then our contact tracing efforts will be really limited.” is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media venture explaining California policies and politics.

Pin it

NorCal News

  • covid 19 4960254 1280
    March 03, 2021

    Inching closer to the red tier

    Since August, Sonoma County’s been stuck in the state’s most restrictive tier in terms of COVID-19 recovery. But the possibility of opening up the economy a bit more is finally possible. Sonoma’s one of four Bay Area counties still in the purple tier, according to state guidelines. But because…
  • IMG 7516 2
    March 02, 2021

    Santa Rosa Clears a Large Homeless Encampment

    Dozens of people living in Santa Rosa’s largest homeless encampment were forced to pack up and leave Tuesday morning. It marks Santa Rosas’s second encampment clearance in the past week. Activists showed up before sunrise to protest the clearing of Santa Rosa’s biggest homeless encampment on…
  • syringe 5882594 1280
    February 26, 2021

    County Postpones Vaccine Appointments Due to Scarcity

    Next week, Sonoma County is suspending all first dose vaccine appointments due to supply shortage. But the county will keep second dose appointments for both the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines. Sonoma County has been allocated 7,680 doses for next week, five percent fewer than this week. This…
  • vaccine 5873170 1920
    February 24, 2021

    The County is Nervous about Blue Shield's Vaccine Takeover

    On March 7, Blue Shield of California will start administering Sonoma County’s vaccine rollout. The nonprofit insurer will take over the data collection and decide how many doses each provider receives. They’ll also streamline the sign-up process, making most appointments available through…
  • vaccine 5895477 1280
    February 19, 2021

    County Shifts Vaccine Priority to 65 and Up and Food Workers

    On Monday, residents 65 and older, along with food manufacturing, grocery store and restaurant workers will be eligible for a vaccine at one of the county-supported clinics. Prioritization will be given to those with server illnesses, such as cancer or kidney disease. The decision to expand…
  • vaccine 5926664 1280
    February 17, 2021

    The County Still Faces a Vaccine Shortage

    Two months into Sonoma County’s vaccine rollout, 19% of the adult population has received at least one dose. The county is keeping up with other Bay Area counties in vaccinating residents and has opened up dozens of clinics, but the biggest problem has been the same since day one: the county isn’t…
  • vaccine 4946480 640
    Feb 10, 2021

    The County Reaches for More Vaccine Data

    Officials say Sonoma is administering vaccine doses at a faster rate than similarly sized counties. On February 10, officials announced the county…
  • final 4896425 640
    Feb 09, 2021

    The County Compromises on Eviction Limitations

    On February 9, Sonoma’s Board of Supervisors voted to place more limitations on evictions during COVID-19. The amendment limits evictions to extreme…
  • Feb 06, 2021

    Sonoma County Extends Stay-At-Home Order

    State public health officials have extended a Stay-Home Order for the 11-county Bay Area region, including Sonoma County. The move comes as COVID-19…
  • vaccine 5873170 1280
    Feb 03, 2021

    The County Promises an Equitable Vaccine Rollout

    Earlier this week Sonoma County reaffirmed its commitment to vaccinate the oldest seniors first, those 75 and older. Younger seniors were told to be…
  • corona 5174671 640
    Feb 03, 2021

    What We Need to Know: COVID in Sonoma County

    What are the current county restrictions? Sonoma County is currently in the most restrictive purple tier of the California’s Blueprint for a Safer…
  • Nurses protesting outside of Sutter Santa Rosa Regional Hospital. Photo courtesy of the California Nurses Association.
    Jan 31, 2021

    Santa Rosa Nurses Demand Safe Staffing

    UPDATE: Earlier this week California’s Department of Public Health halted the staffing waivers. The State says they will not accept any new…
  • injection 5722329 1920
    Jan 27, 2021

    Sonoma County Opens its First Clinic for Oldest Seniors

    Sonoma County is following the state’s guidance to prioritize seniors ages 75 and up in its vaccine rollout. While there’s progress and hope in the…
  • Student doing homeowork.
    Jan 21, 2021

    County Strategizes Reopening Schools

    Covid-19 is rampant in Sonoma County and spreading faster than ever, which means kids are still stuck at home. While vaccines are being rolled out,…
  • pbs
    Jan 13, 2021

    PBS Employee Makes Controversial Statements on Hidden Camera

    Julian Wyllie of CURRENT news reports in a story entitled "PBS Distances Itself from Former Staff Attorney Ensnared in Project Veritas Sting," that…
  • COVIDdec2020
    Dec 06, 2020

    Understanding the New Regional Stay-At-Home Orders

    Regional Stay Home Orders will go into effect within 24 hours in regions with less than 15% ICU availability, and prohibits private gatherings of any…

NorCal News Radio

Northern California
Public Media Newsletter

Get the latest updates on programs and events.