Contact tracers work to slow the spread of COVID-19

Local News

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – When someone gets sick from COVID-19, we all wonder who they have been in contact with and if it was you. That is also one of the biggest questions for the Arkansas Department of Health. To date they have hired 600 people to figure out how many people came into contact with each infected person. They’re called contact tracers and they are tasked with following in the footsteps of sick Arkansans.

Two companies are working with the health department to track down potential positive cases. One of those companies is the Arkansas Foundation for Medical Care Incorporated. They have more than 300 employees working as contact tracers.

Yolanda Giles is one of those contact tracers who spends eight hours making calls.

“We get a list of contacts, individuals that have been infected with COVID-19,” Giles said.

She starts by asking some basic questions.

“Like their name, date of birth, telephone number, address,” Giles said.

She then moves on to some more specific details.

“If they’ve traveled, who they’ve been around, if they’ve been to local restaurants, community events,” Giles said.

It is all done in Spanish as well. Mihaira Gonzalez is a bilingual contact tracer and says it’s crucial to have callers who can reach those who don’t speak English.

“As soon as they hear somebody that speaks their language they feel safe, they feel confident in telling you what’s going on,” Gonzales said.

Once they record all the places and people those positive cases have come into contact with, they determine who is a direct contact.

“A person you’ve been around for 15 minutes or longer, less than six feet away from,” Gonzales said.

Then there’s a new list of names to call.

“We let them know about their exposure. We give them the Arkansas Department of Health recommendations, quarantine, avoid public activities, etcetera,” Gonzalez said.

Both Giles and Gonzales say getting people to pick up the phone is half the battle.

“Most of the time they won’t,” Gonzalez said.

“You keep calling,” Giles said.

With each name crossed off the list, they are working to keep more from being added.

“The fact that we can let them know they were exposed so they can be on the lookout or at least quarantine for a couple of days that can save a lot of lives,” Gonzales said.

The contact tracers say they make about 60 to 70 calls a day. A big part of it too is letting those positive cases and those exposed know about different resources like housing and food delivery since they need to quarantine. Their number is 833-283-2019. If you get a call from that number, they ask you to please answer it.

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