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Contact tracers face daunting task amid rising COVID-19 numbers

Published: Nov. 23, 2020 at 4:29 PM CST
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LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) - While the state is working through a backlog of more than 2,600 people who need contact tracing, the Lincoln Lancaster County Health Department said they’ve been able to keep up. They said they’ve been hiring more tracers to stay on top of the new cases, but it hasn’t been easy.

But its necessary.

“It’s the most critical piece of the work we’re doing to mitigate the spread of the virus,” Pat Lopez, director of the Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Department said.

The county employs 59 people who work in contact tracing.

Each day the new COVID-19 cases are split up among them. They said 99% of the time they’re able to contact people within 24 hours of testing positive.

“It can be really daunting,” Bernice Afuh, who works with contact tracers said. “It’s a new experience for us every day but I think we’re doing really well, we don’t have a backlog.”

In a typical call, the contact tracer will ask about symptoms and close contacts, then provide information on quarantining, when to seek medical help and community resources if needed. Then, they’ll reach out to any close contacts and urge them to isolate for 14 days.

“We’re not calling people just to point out that they’re positive or to shame them. The reason we’re calling is to try and decrease the spread,” Barb Martinez, a tracer said.

A tracer will work on a case for anywhere from 20 minutes to over an hour, depending on how many contacts the positive person has had.

On average, an experienced tracer will handle about 10 cases each day.

Martinez said what she’s hearing from people who test positive is that they let their guards down and gathered with family.

“People aren’t wearing masks in family settings, they don’t think their family will give it to them and of course they wouldn’t intend to but they may not even know they’re sick or have the virus,” Martinez said.

The only way the county is getting through this spike in cases is by hiring new tracers.

“It’s constant right now,” Afuh said.

They are hiring right now.

The position is listed on the city’s website under professional/technical worker.

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