One of the biggest barriers they face is that people distrust the medical system and do not want to give information over the phone.
Building trust in the community is key to contact tracing, say health professionals who are focusing their efforts on curbing the spread of COVID-19 in Chicago.
The purpose of contact tracing is to alert people who may have been exposed to someone with COVID-19 and prevent them from passing it on to third parties. This work allows us to understand more precisely where the cases are in the community and how the virus is spreading to prevent it from spreading.
So far there is no vaccine available against covid-19 and while one is found, the work of contact trackers is essential to reduce the rate of infections, health experts say.
The city of Chicago launched an effort to hire 450 covid-19 contact trackers. Mayor Lori Lightfoot made the announcement at a press conference on September 14.
The hiring has been carried out through 31 different community organizations through a grant of $ 56 million from the federal government.
Hispanic organizations that help with contact tracing include Proyecto Resurrección, Central State Ser, Instituto del Progreso Latino, Back of The Yards Neighborhood Council, and Centro Cultural Puertorriqueño.
“This is really a moment of hope. It’s about making sure we are doing what we need to do and having the infrastructure to keep pushing our response to COVID-19, but I think it’s also a time when we’re creating opportunities for good jobs, “Lightfoot said. And he stressed that people from the communities where they live or work will be hired.
“As we approach fall and winter, I don’t fully know what covid will look like here in Chicago. We are concerned about the potential increase, ”said Dr. Allison Arwady, commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health.
More than 9,000 calls
Contact tracing is a technique used for decades to combat the spread of infectious diseases, including Ebola and tuberculosis, to name a few.
At the Howard Brown Health Center they have experience in contact tracing, as they already do it with people who test positive for sexually transmitted diseases such as syphilis and HIV and now they use this technique to help stop the spread of Covid-19.
When a person is going to take the coronavirus arrest test, they ask for their identification to enter their data into the clinic’s system, then they ask for their phone number and, if they test positive for covid-19, a contact tracker will contact she.
Contact trackers call people who test positive for coronavirus and ask questions about how they are doing, if they have had symptoms and if they need help with mental health resources and services. They also ask about people they have had recent contact with, to identify people who may have been infected. People are not asked for their social security number or asked about their immigration status. All information shared is confidential.
By having people’s information, contact trackers can identify not only possible infections of the virus but also the areas that should have the greatest protection. Latino communities are the most affected by covid-19, as is the case with the zip code 60623 that belongs to La Villita, explains Erik García, manager of the express and walk-in clinic on the south side and leader of the contact tracing team of Howard Brown Health Center.
Garcia makes calls and also trains and supervises contact trackers who have made more than 9,000 calls since March. His team is made up of 13 bilingual, home-based contact trackers.
One of the biggest barriers contact trackers face is that people don’t trust the medical system and don’t want to give out information over the phone, Garcia emphasizes. “I feel that it is much more out of fear and more now with the coronavirus pandemic or because we did not tell him at the beginning that a contact tracker was going to call them if they test positive. Something that we have started to do every time someone takes a test, we give them a flyer indicating what is next after their visit and that a contact tracker will call them, everything is transparent in order to have the confidence of the community ”.
At Howard Brown Health Center they are of the idea that employing people from the community generates more trust in people. Garcia trains people in the Chicago community to become contact tracker. “We give them everything they need, we help and support them to be successful.”
There is greater empathy on the part of the person who receives the call when the contact tracker is of the same ethnicity and speaks the same language, García highlights to La Raza. “If I’m talking to someone Latino, some people feel more confident or comfortable, that’s what we are noticing that helps us a lot more.”
Relaxing restrictions on restaurants, bars and party halls makes contact tracing much more difficult, Garcia says. “When we’re outside having fun, one of the last things we think about or focus on is safety. The people who are taking it will not remember who they were with and they will not take the precautions that are normally taken, it will be much more difficult ”.
‘You have to connect those people with resources’
Contact trackers call people who test positive for COVID-19 arrest to find out how they are doing and if they have everything they need to isolate themselves. Then they will call the people with whom they have had contact to ask if they have symptoms and to get tested for the coronavirus, said Ted Hufstader, director of Quality and Practice Transformation of the Esperanza Health Centers.
It is not only to let the person know that they have the coronavirus but also to connect those people with resources so that they can quarantine, emphasizes Hufstader. “We can connect people with medical help if they have symptoms, we want to do an early intervention instead of doing something later, because it may be that if you wait you can go to the hospital.”
70% of the people who attend the Salud Esperanza Centers prefer to speak Spanish and do not have health insurance. The Centros Salud Esperanza community clinics based in southwest Chicago mostly serve the Latino community in the Pilsen, Brighton Park, La Villita and Marquette areas.
Building trust in the community is key to contact tracing, according to Hufstader. Therefore, people looking to hire to do that tracking have to know the community they serve, he says. “We want people who know the community, who can communicate with our patients, they don’t have to have experience in health care, we just want them to know about the resources in the community, we are going to train them.”
Editorial coverage of La Raza is made possible in part by the Chicago Community Trust, the Field Foundation of Illinois, the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, the Lenfest Institute for Journalism / Facebook Journalism Project, and the Google News Initiative. We appreciate your support of our journalistic work.