When Ben Meana calls, people have all sorts of reactions. They might hang up. They might worry. Or they might be glad to learn more about protecting their family and community from COVID-19.
Meana is a contact tracer for Public Health — Seattle and King County. Every morning, whether he’s working from his home or his office at Harborview Medical Center, he starts calling people who have tested positive for COVID-19. These people have recently taken a virus test, some at the drive-up or walk-up testing stations established across Seattle, Renton, Auburn, and Shoreline. Meana has plenty of experience doing this job — before the pandemic, he performed contact tracing for sexually transmitted diseases.
Wednesday, Governor Jay Inslee announced Washington State’s COVID-19 contact tracing program. Over 700 National Guard members have been trained to do much of this labor-intensive work — at least until June 24.
Tuesday, national media revealed that over 40,000 National Guard members’ deployment across the country ends on June 24 — one day short of qualifying for early retirement or education benefits. This includes the 700-plus Guard members already trained and starting to conduct contact tracing here in Washington.
Washington State Gov. Jay Inslee unveiled the state’s novel coronavirus contact tracing plan in a press conference on May 12.
The plan is meant to “box in the virus,” Inslee said, and work in tandem with the state’s phased reopening plan. The contact tracing plan will involve almost 1,400 contact tracing team members, including 351 members of the Washington State National Guard and a combination of more than 600 local and state health department officials. The effort will not directly involve law enforcement, and the National Guard will not have law enforcement capabilities.