By Mike Cugno

MIAMI (CBSMiami) – As the number of positive cases continues to rise in Florida, Miami-Dade County is investing in its coronavirus contact tracing program. But one local group isn’t waiting around, instead seeking volunteers for its own program.

Miami-Dade County will add an extra $14 million and 250 more contract tracers will be used through the end of 2020.

“Contact tracing along with testing is the only thing that has been proven to defeat coronavirus,” said Dr. Jack Michel.

Michel from Larkin Community Hospital in Miami and a group of volunteers have spent the last few months setting up a contact tracing system. They’ve been up and running for 30 days with no operating budget.

“We need groups like these. Volunteers who are willing to put up their time and do this because there’s not enough money. Government doesn’t have enough money to cover this,” he said.

Michel and his colleagues, Virginia Johnson and John van Keppel, told CBS4 they’ve had around 300 volunteers take the three-hour course needed to become a tracer.

They said each time they call a COVID-19 positive patient, the process of the questionnaire takes about 20 minutes. But with the latest one-day total surpassing 15,000, they said it’s a near impossible endeavor. To streamline their efforts, they developed covidfighterapp.com where you can input who you’ve come in contact with.

“They can download it themselves. They can do it all by themselves. They don’t even need our help but we will get that information so we can contact those close contacts,” said van Keppel.

That, they said, has helped with patients who are worried about the stigma of telling others they have the virus.

Johnson said back in June they reached out to the county to see if they can help, but they were directed to the state who had contracted an outside vendor. They were told to have volunteers apply for contract tracing jobs.

“I had about 23 people who actually applied for the job, myself and John included because we wanted to see where it would go,” Johnson said. “We haven’t heard a word.”

Shevrin Jones, a member of the Florida House of Representatives, and his family were just diagnosed with COVID-19. He said he was contacted by tracers in Broward.

“When I got contacted by the contract tracer from the Broward Department of Health, she wasn’t trained, she wasn’t qualified to ask me the right questions to be able to track where or who I could have given COVID to,” he said.

Jones said not enough enforcement and too much confusion between cities and counties are contributing to the spike in cases.

“I believe we are failing the people right now because, although there is a sense of responsibility that we all must maintain, there is a responsibility that the state has to enforce some of these things to ensure that we’re keeping people safe and we’re just not doing that right now,” he said.

Dr. Michel said if you’d like to be a volunteer, all you need is a high school degree. You can sign up at volunteer.larkinhospital.com.

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