Jeramey Jannene

Health Department Gets Support From Librarians, School Nurses

Government employees being retrained as contact tracers to fight COVID-19

By - May 14th, 2020 05:06 pm

3D medical illustration of 2019 Novel Coronavirus. Image by [CC BY-SA (]

3D medical illustration of 2019 Novel Coronavirus. Image by [CC BY-SA (]

The Milwaukee Health Department is bolstering its team of contact tracers to respond to the growing number of COVID-19 cases in the city, and that includes adding librarians and Milwaukee Public Schools nurses.

Contact tracers follow-up with individuals that tested positive and those they came into contact with as part of an effort to understand how the disease is spreading and preventing those that have been exposed from spreading it further.

“We do estimate that we are going to need close to 200 for peaks, for surge capacity,” said Dr. Heather Paradis, the department’s deputy commissioner of medical services, Thursday morning to members of the Public Safety & Health Committee. Wisconsin Department of Health Services officials have estimated the entire state will need at least 1,000 contact tracers.

In late April, an MHD representative said the city had a team of 19 contact tracers. “Yesterday, we trained 88 individuals to help with our effort,” said Mayor Tom Barrett on Wednesday afternoon.

The city is finding support from individuals who currently have little to do as a result of the pandemic. Milwaukee Public Schools has redeployed 30 nurses to assist the health department. “Although we are paying them, we are just making up a pay differential,” said Paradis. MPS staff continues to engage students remotely, but physical schools are closed.

The Milwaukee Public Library is also contributing staff members. “On Monday we are going to be receiving approximately 90 redeployed individuals from our library division,” she said. The move will result in some library employees being called back to work. A cost-saving move by the city instituted last week furloughed 114 library staff members and cut hours of another 50. Most of the city’s libraries are closed, with a handful offering curbside pickup. A MHD spokesperson said approximately half of the 90 library employees would be trained as contact tracers with others supporting MHD’s pandemic response in other ways.

The city received $103 million from the federal government through the CARES Act to support its coronavirus response effort. It cannot use that money to replace lost revenue, but can use it to pay employees reassigned to support its response effort.

Paradis said that approximately 400 volunteers have registered through a state medically-trained workforce database to also support the city. “This is likely to be somewhat of a fluid population doing contact tracing,” she said.

According to an MHD database, 3,300 city residents have tested positive for COVID-19 as of May 13th. A total of 153 residents have died as a result of the disease. The concentration of the disease continues to grow in the predominantly Hispanic or Latino southside.

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Categories: Health

One thought on “Health Department Gets Support From Librarians, School Nurses”

  1. ILoveMKE says:

    Where is the health commissioner? Is she MIA during a pandemic?

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