My Life as a Contact Tracer

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Contact tracing is the medical tracking of people who are contagious and who may have been in contact with others. It is an effort to mitigate the spread of a disease or virus, such as the COVID-19 virus.  At UTC, as part of the contact tracing team, for which I volunteered, we follow guidelines to perform several functions. The key functions are contacting those cases that are confirmed because of exposure to someone who is ill and, secondly, contacting and monitoring potential cases because of possible exposure. My tools to do the job are my phone and/or employing text messaging and email, plus using my computer for information chronicling.   

As the pandemic plays out in society, you might imagine how contacting confirmed cases or possible cases go. I found three categories. Category 1 is people who are concerned. These include those who are sick (possibly not with COVID-19) and concerned about not wanting to give their ailment to others, and those who are not presently ill but may be asymptomatic and, as such, a possible carrier of the illness. This group is always compliant when I contact them, typically expressing happy tones through the phone. You feel them becoming more at ease as their 14 days in quarantine or isolation pass. 

Category 2 is my obligation group. I become more of an annoyance to them when I call, but they know it’s necessary to help keep COVID-19 contained. They usually want text message contact, no phone calls.  In fact, most want a text but only after a day or two. Beyond that, they seem to not want to be bothered. People in Category 2 mostly give me answers that become shorter as the days pass. And, they start to ask more frequently when will they be allowed to come out of quarantine. 

Category 3 are people who just don’t want to be bothered, don’t want to deal with the issues. Since worldwide many people disdain wearing a mask, I get the feeling this category of people feel as if this is all so unnecessary. I text them. They rarely respond. I call, and on the initial setup phone call, they seem incredibly put out. A few are testy when I identify myself and give the reason for my call. It’s not surprising to me that it happens this way when you consider some attitudes throughout the world.   

I felt most concerned about one, recent positive cases. At first, it seemed those being monitored were becoming increasingly foggy and short of breath (I could hear it through the phone). I asked our medical monitoring team to intervene. Luckily, they soon recovered, but not before I put in a sleepless night wondering why the sick people involved allowed their situation to go that far. I thought back to my time in college, though, and remembered it was not uncommon to have a disconnect from family and relatives while living a distance away from them. The people I worried about recovered. They thanked me a couple days later during a phone call, and that was gratifying. 

Luckily, they soon recovered, but not before I put in a sleepless night wondering why the sick people involved allowed their situation to go that far.

In the weeks ahead I offer a suggestion to people who may become afflicted. Take notes, at least mental ones, of those you have been in contact with, meaning those contacts who were less than 6 feet away from you for 10 minutes, regardless if they were wearing a mask or not. When I conduct contact tracing, gathering this information is the longest part of the interview. Not intentionally, but people can become vague when under pressure. So offer a contacting tracer the full names (no nicknames) and contact phone numbers of people who are your friends and social group and others you have been near, whether in class or not. Please do not wait until symptoms manifest. Try to take action two days before then. All this information helps keep the spread of a virus reduced, COVID-19 or any other ailment. I realize now we all have become weary of saying “stay safe,”’ but in many cases we are still showing signs that we are not staying safe enough.  

Still, I’m glad to be part of assisting in this process. It takes up most of my time each day now. I certainly am hoping for a future when our staying safe pays off. 

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