What Does a Contact Tracer Do?

Contact tracers focus on gathering cases and relevant data with their city and health departments through identifying and organizing interviews with individuals who are infected with COVID-19. In addition, tracers are responsible with follow up by giving these individuals proper guidance to follow while flattening the curve and stopping the spread in the region.

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According to an insider that I help landed a job in; who currently is a contact tracer for the greater NYC area, stated that she makes daily outbound calls for cases on people who have been lab confirmed, tested positive for COVID-19 and when she makes those calls, sometimes she leaves voicemails because not all individuals would pick up. But for those who do pick up the call, she goes through a case investigation intake with the case for those who are tested, lab confirmed positive. In this assessment, she would walk them through different medical conditions that they have or different symptoms they’ve experienced in the past month and basically just informing them to isolate for a 14-day period.  They are informed about different services that they offer to help them isolate safely and effectively for that 14-day period – on how to continue practicing safety health measures such as social distancing, washing hands and staying home when there aren’t essential things needed to be taken care of.

These services include access to food, help with navigating/paying electricity bills, how to get their medications, as well as a variety of mental health resources like NYC Well, or domestic violence hotlines so that people have access to professionals so that they can feel supported and not feel like they are alone during this time. Another service that is included, is that the tracers notify people that they’re not medical professionals and because they cannot offer personal medical advice – they encourage them to speak with their primary care physicians or to connect to the COVID-19 physician hotline, where they can call and speak with a medical professional regarding any concerns related to COVID-19.

“When I make these calls to these people – those who pick up, it’s like forming a connection with them,” the insider says. “One of the vital pieces of this project is that some of us have a hard time of getting people to provide information about their exposed contacts, to people who were exposed and tested positive with COVID-19 prior to them. Trying to track down those – of course all of those information are all confidential and kept safe and secure.”

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Some individuals that she has communicated with are forthcoming with that information, while a few are hesitant and do not want to share information about their exposed contacts.

“The other vital piece is that they make sure that folks have access to information and services on how to isolate effectively and safely, and also hopefully that they’re getting COVID education and being they’re aware so that they’ll be less stigmatized; that they’re not blaming themselves or other people and just empowering people on how to isolate safely, and what to do with a COVID-19 positive test result and how to go forward.”

She feels like this project, in a lot of ways helps the community and it allows people to gain access to information and to participate… to have someone do a case investigation intake with them – which is through the use of language line for folks with limited language proficiency – for those who do not have access to information or even to see what they need, and to be a support for them during this time and even to be a listening ear as well.  “I have done Spanish and Mandarin language line calls during my time there. This project goal is to cover the basis and trying to reach as many people as possible.”

She remembers a case she had with a woman, who at the time during her call with her – she was already staying at an isolation hotel, which is one of the services that they also offer to these individuals as well. “If someone doesn’t have a safe place to stay at or staying at separate bedrooms or bathrooms in their own home, NYC offers free isolation hotels where there are snacks, 3 meals a day and medication to be arranged and they will be taken care of during your time there. This is all free of charge,” the insider asserts.

Although many sources indicate that contact tracers have a hard time with reaching out to those who are unable to be reached, there are also memorable moments with those who they’ve gotten a chance to speak with.

“My favorite part of this job is talking to people and making meaningful connections with other New Yorkers especially at a time where they might feel extra isolated and be a listening ear, and just reassuring people that they are not alone and to be that person on the other end caring for them whether it’s a short or long length of time during the call.”

‘There are quite a few of people in these calls that I will never forget because they were kind, cooperative and were willing/open to sharing their information of their exposed contacts. This is the tracing part and this is also the most difficult part of the project, since many folks do not feel comfortable giving out information of their exposed contacts. I think that this is the nature of the beast. Human nature is more protective of those we love, those we are around. We protect their information and they protect our information.”

To sum it up, this is all pretty much ACCESS… Contact tracers making the calls to those tested positive – by connecting them to information and people, for them to have access to things – especially the people who need a place to go, contact with; to ensure that folks get their food and the proper medication that they need. It’s very useful whether or not people utilize the services but it’s for everybody basically to be informed and educated with these information, which hopefully knowledge is power. People empower to make healthy decisions as contact tracers continue do their job of slowing the spread in NYC as well as other parts of the U.S.

As mentioned earlier, a large part of this job is by establishing a meaningful connection with people that they’re on the phone with – when establishing that meaningful connection, it allows contact tracers to be able to lead to building greater trust, which ultimately leads to providing a greater exchange where the individual being reached through the call is more forthcoming and willing to provide more vital information. The whole call is centered and wraps around COVID-19 education and providing information for services to be able to isolate safely and effectively, as well as services regarding mental health and domestic violence, food and physicians for them to ask them health related questions or COVID-19 related questions and how they can cope with easing their fears and anxiety a little bit – is just one of the main pieces of it, which is to get people to provide information on their exposed contacts so that they can do the tracing part.

The insider expresses, “This is the job where you need to have patience, empathy, and just being able to make a connection with whoever you get on the phone and letting them know that this call is not so much an interrogation but more of love and support, to see how they are and what they (contact tracers) can do to help these individuals keep well and stay safe.”

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