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Contact Tracing Program In New Jersey City Offers Cost-Effective Model For COVID-19

  • Without hiring any temporary staff, the health department in Paterson, N.J., was able to contact trace more than 90% of people involved in local positive COVID-19 cases, according to a study presented at IDWeek.
  • Paterson’s approach to cross-training current staff to investigate people confirmed with COVID-19 and contact trace could serve as a model in communities with limited resources.
  • The case peak occurred in mid-April with 263 cases on a single day and by mid-June, the daily number declined to seven.

Arlington, Va.—Existing staff at a public health department can be trained to successfully conduct contact tracing, limiting the need to hire outside temporary staff, according to research presented at IDWeek 2020.

Put in place just months before the outbreak of the novel coronavirus began nationwide, a program in the Paterson, N.J., department that includes a 25-person team that expanded to 50, interviewed more than 90% of people involved in local positive COVID-19 cases early in the outbreak—a very high success rate. 

“The community was accustomed to hearing from and seeing our health department, so that credibility helped as our staff pivoted to becoming contact tracers,” says presenting author Paul Persaud, M.D., MPH, Ph.D., and health officer and program manager at the City of Paterson Division of Health.

He highlights the value of training and tracing in any outbreak to avoid a devastating toll on communities.

“The team we put together is our strength,” says Dr. Persaud.

Researchers involved in the study say this was achieved by leveraging skills and using current staff in the health department, which led to timely and robust interventions in this diverse city of 150,000 with a large Spanish-speaking population.

The methods used in Paterson could serve as a model for other communities across the nation that are struggling to conduct contact tracing, particularly those with limited resources, as is the case in this community.

As part of the program, a triage coordinator identified and assigned new cases to disease investigators on a round-the-clock schedule. They would then provide test results, perform epidemiological case interviews, elicit close contacts, and provide isolation/quarantine recommendations. Case-contact monitors followed up daily until the completion of the isolation/quarantine period.

The COVID-19 case peak occurred in mid-April with 263 cases on a single day, and by mid-June the daily number declined to seven. Further, the reported COVID-19 mortality rate in Paterson was 4.65%, compared to surrounding towns in the same county of Passaic (6%), other large cities in New Jersey (Newark 8%, Jersey City 7.4%) and in New Jersey statewide (7.59%).

In addition to Dr. Persaud, co-authors of the study are: Jin S. Suh, M.D., Kate Bond, RN, Alicia Espinal-Mesa, and Bennett Suh.

Contacts: Gavin Stephenson,

About IDWeek

IDWeek 2020TM is the annual meeting of the Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA), the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America (SHEA), the HIV Medicine Association (HIVMA), the Pediatric Infectious Diseases Society (PIDS) and the Society of Infectious Diseases Pharmacists. With the theme “Advancing Science, Improving Care,” IDWeek features the latest science and bench-to-bedside approaches in prevention, diagnosis, treatment, and epidemiology of infectious diseases, including HIV, across the lifespan. IDWeek 2020 takes place virtually Oct. 21-25. For more information, visit

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