Don't avoid a call from COVID-19 contact tracers - their work saves lives, officials say

It's important to answer a call you might receive from contact tracers tracking the coronavirus - their work is saving lives. "Everyone always asks 'what can I do?' You can do this. This is huge."
LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- Contact tracing is a key tool in bending the curve in the coronavirus pandemic. And now, thanks to a new incentive, more people are cooperating with the process.

"Without their help, we won't be able to bend the curve," said Victor Scott, a public health specialist.

Bending the curve of COVID-19 infections: that is the sole purpose of the 2,600 contact tracers working right now for the L.A. County Department of Public Health.

"It's one of our tools and since the beginning of this pandemic, we've been trying to use it to the best of our ability," said Dr. Barbara Ferrer, the department's director.

So far, the public health department has issued more than 210,000 isolation and quarantine orders based on information gathered by contact tracers. Some people have been hesitant to cooperate in the roughly one-hour long phone interviews, but a new $20 gift card incentive program that began last week is helping.

"There's a gift card for every single person that completes that process," said Ferrer.

More than 4,600 gift cards have been distributed. Sixty percent of the people called are now completing the interviews - that number is up more than 20% from the week before.

"We're pretty successful with interviews where we find some challenges is in eliciting contacts. It's very important that you let us know who your contacts have been, particularly, household contacts," said True Beck.

Beck, who manages a team of contact tracers, says some people are concerned their names will be revealed to those who they may have exposed to COVID-19. They fear their personal information will be shared, and if they have immigration concerns, they worry they'll be put in jeopardy.

"It is not shared. It stays in a specific data base just with L.A. Department of Public Health. This is a tried and true public health intervention that we've used with HIV, we've used with Meningitis, we've used with Tuberculosis," said Beck.

One area of specific concern for public health? The younger adults who test positive. Beck says there's been a spike in those cases recently and this group in particular has been reluctant to share their contacts.

"Everyone always asks 'what can I do?' You can do this. This is huge," said Beck.
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