COVID-19 cases in L.A. County have risen significantly in the past week. In total, over 100,000 people are infected with COVID-19 across L.A. county.
The county has hired hundreds of contact tracers, who are working to slow the spread. Slowing the spread will require face coverings, physical distancing, regular hand sanitizing and contact tracers.
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"Identify people who've been infected or who've been exposed and to have them isolate or quarantine, so that we sort of have a ring of protection around that group of people," said Jeffrey Gunzenhauser, chief medical officer with the L.A. Department of Public Health.
Radhika Kumar and the team of trained contact investigators play a crucial role.
"Someone on the other side of the line who's there to help you as much as possible," said Kumar, MD, a public health specialist.
There are three steps involved. First, an L.A. County official or a doctor is required to report a COVID-19 case to contact tracers. Next, the contact tracers reach out to the infected individual to create a list of everyone they have been in contact with. The final step is when contact tracers call every person on the list, informing them they've been exposed, all while protecting the identity of the infected individual.
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Contact tracers have demonstrated a history of successfully reducing community spread of deadly illnesses, such as tuberculosis and syphilis.
"Recently we've had measles outbreaks here in L.A. County. We've had the hepatitis A outbreak. We had a small number of cases of homeless individuals. We used contact tracing as our primary strategy to build a ring of protection around all of those cases, immunize their contacts and make sure it didn't spread to others," said Gunzenhauser.
Prior to the pandemic, 250 staff members at the county department worked as contact tracers. As of June 29, 1,500 people are conducting these calls, with 300 more in training.
"I do hope that as people listen, they do understand how important their role is in cooperating with us so that we can all be safe and get through this pandemic as healthy as possible," said Gunzenhauser.
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