The nation’s capital has ended its COVID-19 contact tracing program as cases of the virus continue to decline.
DC Health Department laid off 131 workers that had been hired to monitor the spread of COVID-19 over the last two years. The city’s mobile tracing program will remain operational. Residents will be able to choose to receive notifications about possible exposure to the virus.
“The COVID-19 Contact Trace Force has been instrumental in helping slow the spread of COVID-19 in the District of Columbia,” the department told The Hill. “However with COVID infection levels coming down and easier access to at-home testing kits, the COVID-19 Contact Trace Force is no longer as effective or vital a tool as it was during the peak of the pandemic.”
CDC Health told the outlet it intends to assist contract tracers who will now need to find new forms of employment.
The contact tracing program, known as the DC Contact Trace Force, was launched in April of 2020 by Mayor Muriel Bowser.
“An effective response requires widespread contact tracing so that we know who has the virus and who has been exposed to it,” said Bowser in a statement on April 23. “When it comes time to reopen our city, this team of contact tracers is going to play a critical role in keeping Washingtonians safe and our city moving forward.”
Tracers interviewed city residents who had tested positive for the virus, evaluated the severity of their symptoms, and developed lists of close contact who may have been exposed. Close contacts were then notified that they must quarantine and get tested either over the phone or during a home visit.
Tracers were offered a 13-month contract as well as a $51,000 salary plus benefits.
The size of the program fluctuated during the course of the pandemic. While the city initially hired 65 people to trace the virus, the program had as many as 430 contact tracers at one time. The number had been reduced to 153 by June of 2020, reports The Washington Post.
“The reality is that while we’ve built tremendous resources in the health department as part of the pandemic, many of these systems existed before covid and aren’t going away,” Patrick Ashley, the Director of Emergency Response at DC Health, told the outlet. “We’ve also demonstrated during covid we can rapidly scale up, and the systems are in place to do that.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stopped recommending universal contact tracing and case investigations in March. The agency said local, tribal, and state health departments could focus on prevention strategies that had been proven effective in their communities. The CDC also recommended the health department offer COVID-19 vaccinations, expand their digital efforts, and encourage residents to wear masks, per Fox News.
Other major cities have already ended their contact tracing programs.
New York City ended its COVID-19 contact program on April 30.
Dr. Ted Long, the executive director of the NYC Test & Trace Corps, told staffers in an email in March that the program would shift its focus in its final weeks to “New Yorkers ready for the next phase as we learn to live with COVID.”
The program was launched in June of 2020 and employed about 2,000 contact tracers. It also offered COVID-19-positive New Yorkers free hotel rooms, free meals and other services, per NY1.
According to the CDC, the seven-day average number of COVID-19 cases is just over 109,000.