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Maryland to beef up contact tracing operation. Make sure you answer your phone.

Marylanders might soon receive phone calls from “MD COVID," and though it may be tempting to let it ring, the state’s reopening and recovery could depend on enough people answering.

The state has hired about 1,400 contact tracers tasked with tracking down those who have been exposed to the coronavirus as part of its plan to move the state toward a safe and complete reopening.

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Gov. Larry Hogan has said, for weeks, that the state must deploy thousands of contact tracers to slow the spread of COVID-19, which has infected over 43,000 residents and killed more than 2,000 in Maryland. The contagious upper respiratory disease has wreaked havoc across the world, sickening millions and slowing the global economy.

In an attempt to move Maryland’s progress forward, the state has increased its contact tracing operation more than fivefold, according to a Thursday news release, though it was not immediately clear how many employees would work for the state and how many would carry out their duties from within local health departments.

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In a statement, the Republican governor said the state required an “all-hands-on deck” effort to trace the virus and isolate those who might have it. And Fran Phillips, deputy secretary for public health at the Maryland Department of Health, encouraged Marylanders to answer their phones.

“This is a way everyone can contribute to keeping each other safe and healthy, while helping us find and fight the virus,” she said. “Participating with the state’s contact tracing program helps keep you, your family, your neighbors, co-workers, and community safe from this disease ... working with our COVID-19 case investigators truly can help save lives.”

The state is working in coordination with the National Opinion Research Center (NORC) to hire and train case investigators. These workers are expected to track up to 1,000 cases and 10,000 contacts per day.

Individuals should expect to hear from contact tracers within 24 hours of receiving a positive diagnosis. Case investigators will ask specifics about the notified person’s recent exposure and whom he or she may have come into contact with, but will not ask anyone to reveal a Social Security number, financial or bank account information, or other personal details unrelated to COVID-19. They will also not ask for photographs, passwords or payment.

Workers will also not reveal specific information about the infected person, such as their name, according to the release, in compliance with federal privacy laws. They will also take steps to verify themselves, according to the release.

The state will manage the cases with COVID Link, a data management platform that will house information obtained from state and local health department officials. The platform is expected to be fully operational in all 24 counties by next week.

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