Breaking the Chain of Infection
During a pandemic, contact tracing—identifying people that a person with a contagious disease may have infected and sharing appropriate care and isolation information with them—is an essential part of breaking the chain of infection. That’s why Maryland Governor Larry Hogan made contact tracing an essential component of “Maryland Strong,” his administration’s plan to carefully re-open the state after its COVID-19 stay-at-home order.
But launching a contact tracing program with the necessary speed and thoroughness requires one thing that most state and municipal health departments lack—a ready staff of skilled contact tracers with the interviewing skills and public health knowledge and a state-of-the-art calling infrastructure to hit the ground running. So Maryland turned to NORC.
Choosing a Trusted Data Collection and Public Health Partner
NORC’s data collection and public health expertise made us an ideal contact tracing partner for Maryland.
NORC has been conducting large, interview-based health projects throughout its history. From 2015 to 2020, we completed more than three million hours of interviews. A significant portion of those interviews were in support of the
National Immunization Survey, a major health surveillance study that NORC conducts for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. NORC’s other large-scale public health data collections include the
Medicare Current Beneficiary Survey, which NORC conducts for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, and the
National Social Life, Health, and Aging Project, which NORC conducts with grant funding from the National Institutes of Health.
Many of these studies involve nuanced, carefully scripted conversations about sensitive health issues, and interviewees are often members of underrepresented or difficult-to-reach demographic groups. Through these and similar studies, NORC has derived significant methodological expertise, including how best to deploy and integrate different modes of data collection and the technologies that support them.
Deploying a Thorough, Carefully Managed Tracing Effort
Since June of 2020, NORC has been applying its extensive data collection and interviewing expertise to Maryland’s contact tracing initiative. Each day, NORC’s contact tracing team calls newly infected residents to:
- ensure they have the health and social supports they need
- find out the names and contact information of people with whom they have had close contact
- notify those contacts of their exposure, check for symptoms of COVID-19, refer them to COVID-19 testing, and provide referrals or resources as appropriate
The volume of cases and contacts that need to be called each day has varied greatly throughout the pandemic, from a few hundred to over 15,000, highlighting the need for incredible flexibility and scalability.
In addition, NORC as consulted on the integration of technology and telephony, including case management and tracking, SMS, email, and integrated voice response. We also managed script development, remote training development, and the recruiting, hiring, and supervision of over 1,400 contact tracers.
Dramatically Expanding Maryland’s Pandemic Surveillance Capacity
NORC’s contact tracers quadrupled Maryland’s existing COVID-19 surveillance capacity providing critical “surge” capacity during times of high case counts. NORC’s contact tracing work has been an important pillar in Maryland’s COVID-19 recovery plan, which also includes vaccinations, expanded testing capacity, increased hospital surge capacity, and increased supply of personal protective equipment.
Frequently Asked Questions