Twenty-two contact tracers brought on by the state via a national volunteer program started work this week, with hundreds more slated to join their ranks soon.

In the coming weeks more than 800 applicants will be brought on as tracers, who will strive to contact recently diagnosed coronavirus patients to discuss symptoms and to determine with whom they may have recently been in contact.

Though being trained by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, the volunteers are "hired" by AmeriCorps — a government-run national network of service programs whose members address critical community needs — thanks to a year-long agreement with Colorado, said Ken Goodson, regional administrator for the Corporation for National and Community Service, which oversees the corps, in Denver.

There has been no shortage of applicants, he said.

"There were initial concerns we had on our end, thinking, 'Oh my goodness, we're expected to mobilize 850 Americans interested in serving, and the state is understandably eager to get the recovery process underway," Goodson said. "But the interest in serving from Coloradans greatly outpaced expectations and the number of available positions."

One hundred volunteers began training this week, with another 100 scheduled to begin training next week. The initial agreement between AmeriCorps and Colorado is for a year and will involve a mix of short- and long-term volunteers, Goodson said, adding that states like Texas, Pennsylvania and California have entered into similar agreements with the program. Workers with AmeriCorps' Senior Corps, staffed by those 55 and older, are expected to be some of the state's longer-term staffers.

Volunteers are tasked with calling those newly diagnosed with the virus and attempting to collect information on symptoms and recent contacts. They provide information on how to self-isolate and access community resources, Goodson said.

Other volunteers who are not contact tracers may be asked to collect information about contacts who have been exposed to the virus, he added.

The contact information of those diagnosed with the virus is given to public health for forwarding to contact tracers without patient permission, though no one is required to speak with contact tracers, a state health department spokesperson said.

Volunteers must be at least 18 and have a high school diploma, but many applicants far exceed those qualifications and possess prior experience in the medical field. They may receive a stipend to cover expenses but are unpaid.

But pro bono work could turn into paid work in the near future, Goodson said.

"If you look at the quality of the training program the state has stood up, at a time in our history where we’re responding to an unprecedented need, the opportunity to have someone trained with some strong skills — there's potentially a connection there," he said.

What's more, the volunteer opportunity offers a way for concerned citizens to be part of a solution during a trying time, Goodson said.

"Given the nature of the pandemic and how it's impacting our country and state, some people people feel very motivated to want to do something, to be helpful, to try to get our country back on track from a health perspective," he said. "This is a concrete opportunity to take that desire and put it into action."

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