Rep. Greg Stanton today called for the governor to assign members of the Arizona National Guard to a new mission: Immediately support state and county efforts to contact trace the spread of COVID-19.   

Stanton’s call to action builds on his five-step plan, released Sunday, which outlined actions state leaders should take to save lives, including urgently prioritizing contact tracing. 

As Arizona’s rate of new infections rate spirals out of control, county public health departments —which have been charged with the task of contact tracing—are not yet ready to keep up with the pace. In the last 48 hours, Arizona reported 4,219 new COVID-19 cases, marking the two highest single-day totals since the state began reporting data. There have been 12,628 new cases reported in the last week. 

Guard members could be trained and begin contact tracing efforts within 48 hours. As counties staff up to appropriate levels, Guard members would be phased out of the task and returned to their normal assignment. 

“Each time the state fails to completely trace who an infected person came into contact with, it puts more lives at risk,” Stanton said. “So far, contact tracing efforts in Arizona and Maricopa County have not been met with the urgency the situation demands. They’re woefully inadequate.” 

“National Guard members know how to handle a crisis.  They can get to work right away and give counties the help they need during this public health emergency.  This is the most acute crisis our state has ever faced—if there was ever a moment for an all-hands-on-deck approach, it’s now.”  

Currently, there are 1,000 federally-supported guardsmen and women across the state activated and available to support local public health officials. Additionally, Arizona has about 1,600 Medical Reserve Corps volunteers who stand alongside the Guard ready to help.  

The CDC considers contact tracing a “core disease control measure” and a “key strategy for preventing further spread of COVID-19.” 

Today, Arizona does not have enough contact tracers to do the job, and lacks the infrastructure to put them to work.  Although the state is partnering with the nonprofit CDC Foundation to fill the gaps in its county health departments, Stanton’s office has spoken with departments who said that those looking to become contract tracers will not even be able to apply for positions for two or three more weeks.  

Stanton previously called for Gov. Doug Ducey to activate the National Guard on Mar. 18 when the coronavirus pandemic first hit Arizona. The governor activated the Guard the following day. Citizen-Soldiers and Airmen organized under Arizona’s Joint Task Force are now assisting all fifteen counties and multiple tribal nations with response efforts. 


Background: Arizona Contact Tracing Efforts Falling Short 


State officials have not shared many details about Arizona’s contact tracing efforts.  

Stanton’s office has heard from multiple Arizonans who have tested positive for COVID-19, but have not heard from their local public health department for contact tracing. 

Public health experts have said that Arizona may need as many as 4,000 contact tracers to help manage the crisis.  

The California governor’s office estimated that “counties need 15 contact tracers for every 100,000 residents to adequately contain the virus after shelter-in-place orders are lifted.” [Source: National Public Radio, June 14] By that measure, Maricopa County, the nation’s fourth-largest, would require at least 675 contact tracers.  Yet, on May 11, as Arizona prepared to lift its stay-at-home order, Maricopa County had only 25 individuals performing contact tracing—a ratio of only one contact tracer per 180,000 residents—leaving contract tracers with a workload 27 times larger than ideal.  

Through the CARES Act, Stanton and Congress gave Maricopa County nearly $400 million in federal funds to help manage the COVID-19 crisis. On May 6, the Board of Supervisors approved spending guidelines to disperse those funds and highlighted the county’s need for more contact tracers. The county set aside $175 million for “future needs.”  

Yet, by most standards articulated by public health experts, even the county’s most ambitious plans will fall far short of what is necessary for a county of its size. 

Yesterday, Supervisor Bill Gates said that the county has “added over 100 contact tracing positions” but did not say how many of those positions are actually filled.  Even if all of those positions were filled, though, contact tracers would be given the task to trace approximately 15 new cases each day—a nearly impossible workload that would have a significant negative impact on public health. 

Gates said that the county has formed partnerships with outside organizations, and that there will “ultimately” be “roughly 500 people working on contact tracing.” It is unclear, however, whether partnerships have been finalized, and what the timeline is for when the “roughly 500 people” will be working on contact tracing on a full-time basis.