Merkley, Colleagues Introduce Bill to Meet Shortage of Contact Tracers, Create Jobs, and Curb Infections

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Oregon’s U.S. Senators Jeff Merkley teamed up with Representative Andy Levin (D-MI) and U.S. Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Edward J. Markey (D-MA), and Tina Smith (D-MN) to introduce the Coronavirus Containment Corps Act, which would create a federal contact tracing workforce and put unemployed Americans back to work in their communities.

“This deadly virus has killed more than 400,000 Americans and cost millions more their jobs and livelihoods. We need to do all that we can to contain this virus, while also creating jobs that can be done safely,” said Merkley. “That’s why hiring more Americans to close the critical shortage of contact tracers is a commonsense win-win that must be included in the next coronavirus relief package.”

The introduction follows multiple efforts by Merkley and his colleagues in the Democratic Caucus in 2020 to boost contact tracing efforts. Most recently, that fight included a push to increase contact tracing capacity in the relief legislation that passed in December, which could have helped reduce the explosion in infections following the holiday season.

Contact tracers are more important than ever to the efforts to fully understand, and stop in real-time new variants of, the virus. They will also be uniquely positioned to provide vaccine outreach support as more become available. But since the Great Recession, roughly 50,000 public health jobs—including contact tracing posts—have been lost, and public health departments are severely underfunded.

The Coronavirus Containment Corps would meet that shortage and help curb infections by funding and directing workforce agencies in hiring and managing teams of contact tracers. In addition to today’s standalone introduction, the lawmakers are calling for the legislation to be included in the upcoming COVID-19 response package from Congress.