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The call you don’t want to get

What do our contact tracers do? Just who do they contact? I’ll fill you in. I supervise our team of contact tracers. They make the calls you don’t want to get. If one of them calls you, you’ve tested positive for COVID-19, or you’re a close contact of someone who has COVID. They’re making even more calls lately. They’ve talked to a lot of people, and most of their stories end well. But some of them would break your heart. Here’s some of their stories:

Most people know the call is coming. Some can’t believe it.

“I had an older woman. She was 75. She didn’t know she was positive before I called her. She was completely shocked,” Anas Ismaiel said. “A few people told me ‘I thought I was going to die.’”

A recent surge in cases means we are making more calls. With winter here and the holidays approaching, we worry things will get worse.

“It was easy in the summer. People could go outside and hang out and be physically distant. But now people are going inside. It’s really dangerous,” Ismaiel said. “We’re getting multiple cases from people in households hanging out with families in other households. In some cases, 5 or 6 households. It spreads really fast.”

During a call, each contact tracer asks about a person’s symptoms, and who they may have come in contact with while they were contagious. We also provide information on how to safely isolate and will inquire about needs, such as food or a safe place to isolate away from others. Sometimes we hear back and learn more. Most people have minor or no symptoms and quick recoveries. But too many others are not as lucky.

“Some of the stories are heartbreaking,” said Raeann Spicer, a tracer since July.

“I’ve talked to asymptomatic people; they feel great. They have no idea how they got it,” Abraham Acosta said. “Sadly, I’ve talked to people in the hospital, and I’m one of the last people they talk to because they die.”

One case sticks with Acosta: A woman felt bad for a relative who was depressed and living alone. She invited him over to spend time with her family.

“Somewhere along the line he got infected, and he didn’t make it,” he said.

In another case, a young woman living at home with parents tested positive. She tried to isolate in her room. Her mom kept trying to go into her room, get too close, and take care of her.

“That’s the insidiousness of this sickness, it goes against our nature to care. But that’s where you open a pathway for it.”

Within a couple weeks, the mom’s name came across on the list of positive cases. Fortunately, they both recovered.

The contact tracers have other stories to tell – the young woman kicked out of the house by her father after testing positive, the 3-month-old baby who tested positive, the woman who could not stop crying.

Our contact tracers embrace the importance and value of the job. Many have backgrounds in social and emergency services and feel a higher calling. But we would rather not hear any more of the stories.

“I know there’s people out there who don’t believe it unless it affects them,” Spicer said. “If we’re doing everything we can individually, we are also helping everyone else in the community.”

COVID can make people really sick. So, do me a favor, if you don’t want to hear from me or one of my team members:

Our contact tracers will make calls and help people until we have brought COVID-19 under control in our community. But they also look forward to better days ahead for all of us.

“Nobody wants to be out of a job,” Raeann said. “But this is one job we want to be completely done with.”

For more on how to gather safely, go to tpchd.org/safegatherings.

A woman holds a cellular telephone