It’s easy to imagine a contact tracing call, in which a public health worker calls to either discuss the contacts someone who is positive for COVID-19 has had or notify a person that they may have been in contact with someone who has the disease, as stressful for all involved.
But Debby Bower, who works as a contact tracer and case investigator for Jeffco Public Health, doesn’t see it that way.
”With all of us collectively pulling together, it is a marvelous communal process of trying to be protective and supportive of keeping people as healthy as possible and limiting the spread of COVID-19 as much as possible,” said Bower, who makes dozens of such calls each day.
That process begins when someone who lives in Jefferson County tests positive for COVID-19 and the results are passed on to a case investigator and contact tracer like Bower who calls the positive person to discuss both their experience with the illness and who else they have recently been in contact with.
MORE: CDC explanation of the contact tracing process
Leah Greenberg was called by Bower in late July after Greenberg was one of several to test positive after being exposed to one another on a girl’s trip to South Carolina.
The conversation lasted about half an hour with Greenberg starting out by telling Bower the story of her time in South Carolina and Bower then asking her additional questions about whether she had been in contact with other people (she hadn’t as she and her friends took pains to avoid any other people once one learned she had been explosed to someone who had tested positive).
”It was a great interaction with her mostly because she was recognizably so appreciative of us doing what we could do to stop the spread where there are other people out there who are so blatantly selfish about it,” said Greenberg.
Bower said she enjoys those calls in part because they provide an opportunity to connect those who have COVID-19 with additional help and resources.
”There is a real beauty in this person-to-person connection and inquiring genuinely about ‘How are you? What’s your experience? Are there any ways we can help you with resources or are their rigors that having COVID-19 has brought to the fore that we can help with?” Bower said.
Based on information provided during that initial call, contact tracers then reach out to those who may have been exposed to warn them of their possible exposure.
Although Greenberg said Jeffco’s contact tracers are now reaching the vast majority of people they try to call, she said people can sometimes be concerned about speaking with case investigators and contact tracers. She therefore hopes to push the message that contact tracing conversations not something to be feared but rather easy and comfortable.
Those concerns can be particularly prevalent among racial minorities, who often are leery of contact tracers because of what JCPH Executive Director Mark B. Johnson calls ”the past lost trust of public health and the medical system with people of color.”
Johnson recently told the county commissioners JCPH is making efforts to hire more minorities to work as contact tracers and conduct outreach with organizations focused on serving the minority community.
”We are trying to gain that trust so that in contact tracing we truly are getting the kind of information we need,” Johnson said.
Despite those challenges, Bower said she has been impressed by the general willingness of the community to participate in the process and believe its effectivness is being beared in recent case number decreases.
”It really is this massive partnership and community endeavor all for the good,” she said. ”And so we are so grateful and appreciative of people’s willingness to engage and be part of that and the willingness, energy, time and commitment to our larger community they are showing.”
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