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‘We aren’t just investigators—we’re helpers:’ Meet the team protecting Pierce County.

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic began, our small team of investigators worked quietly behind the scenes to keep diseases from spreading in Pierce County. When we learned of things like measles, tuberculosis or even foodborne illness in our community, the team leaped into action to contact anyone who might be sick and offer guidance to those who were.

It’s among the most effective public health strategies and has been one of our best tools to fight COVID-19. Even as our focus turns to vaccinations, disease investigation will remain a powerful tool as long as the virus spreads in our community.

A team of people who want to protect their neighbors.

Over the past year, about 150 people joined our Case and Contact team. They come from all walks of life. Their diversity enriches our work. We have retired folks, young people just starting their careers and members of communities suffering the most from COVID-19.

Some started nearly a year ago. I’ve been with the program from the beginning, and it’s amazing to see how far we’ve come.

Last March, it was just me training new team members on the fly because information was changing rapidly. Today, we have a thorough program designed to teach each new member how to best serve their neighbors.

Tepora Salanoa, who joined us early in the pandemic, sees first-hand the important roles this team quickly comes to play in people’s lives.

“We are not just case and contact investigators,” she said. “To most, we are helpers. We direct them to the help they need to get through their isolation and quarantine period.

“To some, we are an ear willing to listen to their struggles. To others, we are that voice telling them everything will be OK and guiding them in the right direction.”

Pivoting quickly as priorities change.

Jonathan Cardenas was 19 years old when he joined us in October. It was his first office job, and he came onboard just as our case counts rose to frightening heights. 

“It got crazy here!” Jonathan said.

As case counts have declined, we’ve shifted Jonathan from disease investigation to new projects. Some days, he helps register people for their second dose of vaccine. Others, you might find him translating the script our team uses to interview Spanish speakers.

Jessica Sheinbaum also started in October.

“We had that big surge before Thanksgiving,” Jessica said. “You had to be flexible because everything was changing.”

Jessica’s job also expanded as cases decreased. Now, she spends part of her days calling people with inconclusive COVID-19 tests to help them understand what that means. She also helps other Health Department teams if they have an increase in cases and need some help.

“We can help other departments if they need it,” she said. “And if our counts go back up, hopefully they will be able to help us!”

‘O le ala I le pule o le tautua:’ The path to leadership is through service.

Michael Necessary owned two successful local businesses before the pandemic. He joined our team early on.

“It’s been invigorating and personally rewarding,” he said. “I’ve worked with people from every corner of our community and really began to understand how complex our society is. We’re all grateful to help.”

Most people who have joined our team have found it a rewarding way to help their neighbors during this difficult time. And everyone on the team shares a commitment to serving people when they need it most.

Perhaps Tepora said it best.

“I was taught from a young age to live by the Samoan word ‘tautua,’” she said. “In English, it means ‘service.’ We have a saying: ‘O le ala I le pule o le tautua.’ It means, ‘The path to leadership is through service.’

“Everything in life comes down to that word. Your Service to God, your service to your family, your service to your community.”

You can serve your community, too! Please help us prevent the spread of COVID-19 by continuing to take basic steps:

Wear your masks.

Practice physical distancing.

• Stay home when sick.

Wash your hands often.

Get a COVID-19 test when symptoms appear.

• And now get a vaccine when it’s your turn.

To learn more about COVID-19, visit tpchd.org/coronavirus.

A woman wears a mask while talking on the phone.