State officials are ramping up Delaware’s contact tracing efforts for COVID-19 as the state moves towards partial reopening and sorts through how to best use federal relief dollars.
Delaware received $1.25 billion from the CARES Act passed in March but nearly $323 million of that went directly to New Castle County.
The state is allocating the remaining $927 million on items like contact tracing and coronavirus testing, childcare for families of essential workers and the state’s Hospitality Emergency Loan Program (HELP).
But Office of Management and Budget Director Mike Jackson says addressing Delaware’s estimated 20% unemployment rate requires the biggest chunk.
“We’re expecting that potentially up to half of the funding that we have received from the federal government could be used to pay for the state’s share of unemployment benefits,” said Jackson.
The state’s preliminary estimate allocates between $310 million and $400 million to the unemployment insurance trust fund. Contact tracing is part of a larger group of line items expected to receive between $440 million and $510 million. That group includes COVID-19 testing, other direct response costs and funding for Kent and Sussex Counties.
Officials say 105 National Guard members have been trained as contact tracers meant to learn the contact information of COVID-positive individuals. The state – and its research institute partner NORC at the University of Chicago - are now looking to hire about 200 additional Delawareans for the job. Delaware started accepting contact tracer applications Friday afternoon. The application is available on the state and NORC websites.
State Public Health Director Dr. Karyl Rattay calls the program critical to decreasing the spread of COVID-19. She also says the personal information of COVID positive patients will be protected. People named as contacts will not be told the identity of the individual who named them as such.
“So they’re not going to be able to track this exposure to you unless you tell them that you were a positive and they were a contact,” said Rattay. “So we just want to make sure that everyone knows that it is very important that we are protecting everyone’s health and everybody’s personal health information.”
One thing Jackson says Delaware can’t spend the relief funds on is filling its budget shortfall. The state has the revenue needed to cover this year’s spending plan, but about $491 million less to work with next year than what was anticipated when Gov. Carney made his budget proposal in January.