Skip to main content
Applying lessons learned to improve the effectiveness of contact tracing

Since March of 2020, Maximus has partnered with governments at the federal, state, and local levels to assist with COVID-19 response efforts — ranging from public health information, test coordination, and contact tracing to augmenting unemployment insurance and other benefit programs with claims processing and appeals adjudication, among other services. At present, we are assisting disease investigation and contact tracing programs in Florida, North Carolina, Kentucky, Indiana, and Arizona.

Maximus first partnered with states in late April to run contact tracing programs. Operating with over 600 tracers, we achieve contact rates of 75% of positive cases on some projects — reaching most contacts within 24 hours. Since then, we’ve recruited, hired, trained, and deployed more than 4,500 home-based agents to support program surges related to COVID-19 — including more than 1,100 contract tracers and disease investigators.

As we operationalize contact tracing across these programs, we are gathering and codifying new lessons learned, new quality measures, and key findings — including some that couldn’t be anticipated when we launched our first contact tracing program. Ultimately, contact tracing is predicated on the participation of the public, and no system or policy builds the trust needed for engagement. For that reason, some of the best approaches are not intuitive, and the revised playbook may surprise you.

Community engagement is critical.

Getting adequate levels of participation and cooperation in tracing programs has proven to be a function of successful local and community engagement. These trusted local organizations have proven indispensable in helping us and state officials to get the word out about contact tracing. People are hesitant to answer personal and health questions over the phone – and we have warned consumers and households for years to be careful with their personally-identifying information. The only way to demystify the COVID-19 contact tracing program and to make sure the public has clarity on privacy concerns and how data might be used is to partner with community resources — especially local, trusted institutions. This social proof and consistency in messaging have worked very well to ensure people have confidence that they can participate safely.

Expertise in public health and empathy matters.

While Contact Tracing isn't overly complicated from a technical standpoint, it is challenging work. Blending deep domain knowledge of disease surveillance and epidemiology with training centered around empathetic engagements designed to foster active listening is critical. Patients have suffered the trauma of a positive test result. We are asking them to share personal information so that someone else may not have to. We have to be respectful of that fact. Our training regime blends our commitment to customer engagement and experience with the fundamentals of public health. Over the last few months, Maximus has hired a team of epidemiologists, academic advisors, and other public health experts to inform our efforts under the leadership of Dr. Andrew Sommers, Ph.D. — a veteran Epidemiologist, formally with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Hiring, clearing, and training at scale can be a challenge.

Supply chains have been disrupted throughout the country, and background checks alone can add days to the timeline for finding and vetting skilled full-time, non-gig economy, workers. The administrative burden of recruiting, hiring, training, and getting computers and privacy software to contact tracers can put tremendous pressure on organizations’ internal structures. Maximus has hired, background checked, trained, and deployed thousands of workers in this environment — most within days or weeks. Our supply chains remain intact, and we have been able to keep up with equipment demands to meet short timelines. Several COVID-19 response projects for states were fully launched within 7-12 days of being awarded to us. Our robust capacity to scale up recruiting for annual surges for health programs and post-disaster work has allowed us to keep moving candidates through background check requirements in only two business days. We recruit locally and in partnership with community-based organizations to identify geographies that have been hardest hit by the pandemic. Local hires understand their community and how to connect with their neighbors. We make every effort to hire from the states and municipalities where we work — not only because it helps support the local economy and reduce unemployment stress locally — but because it helps best serve the public and reach more people.

We recruit locally and in partnership with community-based organizations to identify geographies that have been hardest hit by the pandemic. Local hires understand their community and how to connect with their neighbors. We make every effort to hire from the states and municipalities where we work — not only because it helps support the local economy and reduce unemployment stress locally — but because it helps best serve the public and reach more people.

Finally, with great challenges come great opportunities.

Contact Tracing programs are also functioning as important job programs in many states where unemployment has soared. We don't believe that we should be asking those communities and populations who are under enormous strain from the pandemic to volunteer their time to act as tracers. Instead, we believe that these should be full-time, well-paying positions that appropriately activate job seekers, getting people off unemployment and back in the workforce.

Want to know more?

Let’s talk. As of July 2020, Maximus maintains five large-scale contact tracing contracts. As states, counties, and cities come face to face with growing positive test results, we are ready to help. We have completed over 200,000 contact tracing tasks since May, and we have the experience, flexibility, and scalability necessary to support your evolving needs. Send an email to contact-tracing@maximus.com to learn more.