A Contact Tracer’s Role During COVID-19 Explained

Contact Tracing

Contract Tracers are an essential component to stopping the spread of COVID-19. Essentially, it entails finding those exposed to the virus and quarantining them until they are no longer able to pass the virus on to someone else, therefore minimizing the spread of the disease. It’s been used for centuries and successfully kept Ebola, SARS, and MERS from becoming full-blown pandemics.

Prior to the outbreak of COVID-19 there were approximately 2,000 contact tracers in the US. Now, we need thousands and thousands more.

What The Job Entails

To be an effective contact worker you have to be a –

  • Detective
  • Social Worker
  • Therapist

You have to help people understand why isolation is so important and why they should adhere to the protocol. You have to make sure the individual understands that you are empathetic, and want to do all you can to support them. We are all human, and this virus is complicated, and the unknowns can be fear inducing. But so can be the unknowns of unemployment and adjusting to a new way of life at home.

Jessica Jaramillo

Jessica Jaramillo is a librarian, turned contact tracer, who lives in San Francisco. She is bilingual, which helps her to communicate with Spanish speaking patients and make sure they get the resources they need.

She conducts interviews to understand the patient’s history and needs. She has to make sure that they don’t have any questions left unanswered regarding their health and proper action steps. Phone calls are made using computer software, and then the information is secured in the city’s public health department.

The team is in close communication with one another, starting each shift with a team Zoom meeting and communicating regularly via text. It is certainly a collaborative effort, and each person is doing their part to work through as many phone calls as possible.

The job is far from easy. Jessica explains how difficult it can be for patients to choose between health concerns and their financial security. They have personal concerns for their livelihood, and that of their family. Jessica says she tries to use the approach of “we’re all in this together,” and she explains to patients that staying home helps not only themselves and their family, but their entire community. Every conversation is different. She has to think on her feet and act quickly.

That said, the job is rewarding. Jessica knows she’s helping to keep people safe, and that in and of itself is gratifying.

She also explains that the two most powerful tools for combating COVID are contact tracing and testing.

Jade Murray

Jade Murray is a young college graduate with a degree in public health who became a contact tracer at the start of the pandemic. She too describes the contact tracer process as a team effort. Her teams are groups of five people – the contact tracer, nurse, epidemiologist, and then other students or employees.

Contact tracers contact patients for 14 days following their exposure to the virus. They monitor their symptoms, and ensure they answer any questions the patient may have. The patients are told they can call the contact tracer at any time.

Like Jessica, she’s also faced push back from patients who want autonomy. She explains that this has been exponentiated since Utah opened up again on May 1st. They’re also starting to see more positive diagnoses since that time.

But Jade finds success through persistence and kindness. She knows very well that she may feel the same way as her patients if she were in their shoes. That said, the emotional toll can be hard. And when patients do open up, it can take a huge mental toll on a contact tracer. Jade says-

“It’s important when you’re in this position to know your own resources.” 

She contacts 20 to 30 people each day. But, depending on the line of contact, she can spend hours on the phone contacting individuals related to one patient.

Jade says that one of the most rewarding parts of her experience is watching people get to the end of their isolation period, seeing their symptoms improve, and watching them find joy in the simple things in life.

She explains that for her, taking care of people is second nature. Her mom lives with multiple sclerosis (MS), and so she grew up a caregiver, and she loves every bit of it. She says that this experience has helped her cope with the emotional stress of being a contact tracer.

You can read more about this job here.

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