New York Starts Hiring Push for COVID-19 Contact Tracers

By Michael Klazema on 5/19/2020

New York is hiring.

As more states develop guidelines for reopening businesses to blunt the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, contact tracing has emerged as one of the key tools for controlling additional outbreaks. By identifying everyone with whom an infected person has come into contact, health officials hope to reduce further spread. With many who test positive often displaying no symptoms, effective contact tracing will play a critical role in the coming months.

New York's simple plan is similar to those under development in other states. When an individual tests positive for the virus, they must quarantine, then speak by phone or video with one of New York's new "virus detectives," who will gather information about their contacts in recent days and weeks. The state will then reach out to those other individuals to advise them to test themselves and quarantine until it becomes clear that they are not sick.

While simple in theory, the state faces several logistical hurdles to building an effective workforce of contact tracers. The large number of individuals required to fill these roles, for example, could create bottlenecks in training. Preparations for the job must take place online via teleconference to maintain proper social distancing. Protecting sick or vulnerable individuals from exploitation and risks such as identity theft must also be a high priority, especially considering community concerns about the privacy implications of contact tracing.

As more businesses reopen across the nation, there will likely be a widespread need to rebuild the depleted workforce rapidly. Some may turn to temporary positions to meet increased demand while others may fill gaps created by illness-related absences. Even in unique circumstances such as these, companies must not lose sight of their duty to create a safe and effective workforce. Efficiently vetting temporary workers with background checks is an essential part of that process.

For New York, thorough vetting is essential given how much personal information each "virus detective" will access and handle. According to New York State's employment application, all applicants must successfully pass a background check to be eligible for a contact tracing position. 

Quick criminal history checks, such as the instant US OneSEARCH from, play an essential role in putting the right information into the hands of hiring managers. While those outside of the public sector may not have the same concerns about prospective new employees as government hiring managers, safe hiring practices remain vital. Just as New York has done, other businesses must carefully consider how to rebuild safely under today's "new normal." 

While companies explore how to select and interview candidates from afar, reducing barriers to speedy hiring should be a leading concern. Fast solutions for vetting temporary workers via background checks will enable both New York State and private businesses to focus their energies on other significant recovery efforts.

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