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Johns Hopkins offering free course to be COVID-19 contact tracer

Experts say more than 100,000 contact tracers could be needed across the country to help limit the spread of COVID-19 and safely reopen the economy.

BALTIMORE — Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Health's Department of Epidemiology is offering a free five-hour coronavirus contact tracer training program.

The class, where enrollment began on Monday, offers online instructions for anyone who wants to learn the basics of contact tracing, which is the process of limiting the spread of COVID-19 by locating and isolating people who have been infected.

"Contact tracing is a specialized skill," according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "To be done effectively, it requires people with the training, supervision, and access to social and medical support for patients and contacts."

According to Johns Hopkins University, the course will teach students about the science of SARS-CoV-2 (the new coronavirus), "including the infectious period, the presentation of COVID-19, and evidence for how it is transmitted."

The course highlights how contact tracing is done by learning how to build rapport with cases, identify contacts, and support both cases and their contacts to stop transmission in their communities. It will even cover ethical considerations around the job.

The class, taught by associate scientist Emily Gurley, is 100% online and has flexible deadlines. As of Tuesday morning, 8,200 people were enrolled.

The free enrollment is only available until December 31, 2020.

Job qualifications across the country and around the world vary, but some new positions are open to individuals with a high school diploma or equivalent.

The World Health Organization’s Dr. Michael Ryan said some countries now reopening are lacking strong enough contact-tracing systems to detect and stop virus resurgences. 

In the U.S., where health officials will watch closely in the coming days for any resurgence of the virus two weeks after states began gradually reopening, contact tracing is a patchwork of approaches and readiness levels. States are hiring and tracing contact tracers, and experts say hundreds of thousands will be needed across the country.

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Worldwide, the virus has infected a confirmed 4.1 million people and killed more than 286,000, including over 150,000 in Europe and 80,000 in the U.S., according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University. Experts believe those numbers understate the outbreak's true toll.

Apple, Google, some U.S. states and European countries are developing contact-tracing apps that show whether someone crossed paths with an infected person. But the technology supplements and does not replace labor-intensive human work, experts say.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.