Gov. Edwards announces contact tracing plan, addresses privacy concerns

Published: May. 8, 2020 at 10:17 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) - Governor John Bel Edwards is ramping up efforts to track COVID cases. He announced the state’s new model, Friday, which he says will help health officials monitor the outbreak.

“We will get as many contact tracers as we need. in order to do the work that is so essential,” Gov. Edwards said.

Governor John Bel Edwards says the state will hire more than 100 new employees to help track cases of COVID-19.

“Reaching out to all of the people they may have come into contact with to make sure they understand they have come in contact with someone who may have transmitted the disease to them,” Gov. Edwards said.

If the people exposed are symptomatic, they'll know to get tested. If not, Edwards says they should quarantine 14 days because it means they could be asymptomatic carriers of the virus.

“This will allow us to identify people who really should not be out there going to shop some facilities and reduce the risk of spread even as we in general move towards being able to going towards a little bit more of the kinds of activities we had been doing before a stay at home,” Assistant Secretary of Health, Dr. Andrew Billioux, said.

Dr. Andrew Billioux, says during the surge, the team of contact tracers weren't able to do detailed interviews with everyone who tested positive. Now he says being comprehensive is key.

“We're going to quickly identify where we may see an increase in communities, where we're seeing hot spots developing and then, allowing us to get control of those hot spots without necessarily reducing movement across the state,” Billioux said.

State officials add privacy will be paramount and the information provided is all voluntary.

Legislators on the other side of the aisle say that's a crucial distinction.

“It concerns me when the government creates a program to track people there's got to be a balance there and I think the governor's plan is to put that balance into place,” Sen. Patrick Connick said.

New Orleans residents we spoke to largely agree.

“I feel like we’re already being tracked wherever we go,” Molly Hasselbring said.

“It’s hit my family very hard. Very hard so if I could save a life, I do it any day,” Sandra McGowan said.

Others say the state is walking a fine line.

“It could work adversely in the community and even take my ties or exploit people, so I think it's a catch 22. With that,” New Orleans resident Franklin Davis said.

“We need to make sure any program that’s rolled out it’s completely voluntary that’ll be transparent, and its operation and we need to make sure it’s respectful of people’s right to privacy,” Katie Schwartzmann, ACLU Legal Director of Louisiana, said.

Right now, the state is expanding from 70 contact tracers to 250 all Louisianans with the two Louisiana companies they've contracted.

The Governor says based on the model borrowed from Massachusetts the state could end up with a team of 700 or more.

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