Every day, Solange Madriz spends many hours emotionally while draining her cell phone with scared people.
People on the other end of the line have all been identified as close contacts of an individual who tested positive for COVID-19, and is one of 180 contact trackers in San Francisco calling to tell them to be tested and stay at home.
“You can tell by the tone of your voice, by the way they’re asking questions, and it’s hearty,” Madriz said. “I have social services that can support them and it’s just heartening to know that they are experiencing fear ̵1; not only are they sick, but they are experiencing fear at the moment when they need the light to support them.”
If she said they should consider time for quarantine, they worry about losing their paycheck and then growing up missing. Immigrants worry that their information may be shared with federal authorities, and whether access to public aid could be made against them in future immigration proceedings, according to Madriz, who said most of the phone calls its made in Spanish.
But even just getting people on the phone can be a challenge, thanks to a confluence of factors that hamper California’s contact tracking efforts – all of which make it harder to control the spread of COVID- 19 in a state that now has the highest number. of cases in the country.
Full coverage of the coronavirus outbreak
A lack of trust in the government has caused a portion of people who contract COVID-19 to refuse to share information about them who were in close contact before testing positive, while others have fallen out of embarrassment. Delays in obtaining the promised test results in contact of contact tracking efforts in some cases. Meanwhile, the rise in cases in the state has challenged contact trackers to keep up with the large volume of callers.
“It’s not a good situation,” said Brad Pollock, associate dean for public health sciences at the Davis School of Medicine at the University of California. “It may have been a good situation three and a half or four weeks ago to think the epidemic has revealed, but the epidemic has not stopped.”
California became the fourth state to pass 100,000 confirmed total cases of coronavirus on May 27, just after the state began allowing counties to reopen certain businesses. It has since jumped to more than 481,000 cases, tracking by NBC News shows, leading the nation. Los Angeles County alone has 183,383 confirmed cases, health officials said Wednesday.
Public health experts say contact tracing will be critical to spread and states to get to a point where they can reopen.
“There is no place in the world that would limit unsuccessful transmission without a contact tracking program,” said Emily Gurley, an epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, and a keynote teacher for a course. online on contact tracking.
In late May, Government Gavin Newsom announced that the state was training 10,000 people to become contact tracers in county-level-led programs, an effort called California Connected. But as the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in California, and several other states, has grown over the summer, so too have the delays in regaining test results.
Daniel Parker, an assistant professor of public health at Irvine University in California, who is training tracers in Orange County, said they really need to get in touch with someone within three days of a result. of the positive test to intercept the transmission of the disease. But if it takes a week or more to get results, “you have to doubt whether it’s worth that point,” he said.
In Los Angeles County, which aims to reach 4,000 people a day in its contact tracking program, officials recently began offering $ 20 gift cards to people who participate. Officials announced the new incentive after estimating that nearly half of people who tested positive do not share their close contacts.
Download the NBC News app for full outbrea coronavirus coveragek
“This is because people – and people have told us – are afraid of losing their housing, jobs and relationships,” Los Angeles County Director of Public Health Barbara Ferrer said in a press release last week.
True Beck, a public health worker who runs a contact tracking team in Los Angeles, said in a few cases people claimed on the phone that they had not been in contact with anyone, despite employees of the county can hear people in the background.
Control of the spread of the disease is especially critical for people of color who have been disproportionately dying of COVID-19. Los Angeles is trying to address the disparity by opening more testing sites in the Black and Latino communities this month.
But Dr. Stephen Lockhart, chief medical officer for Sutter Health, a nonprofit company that operates hospitals and clinics in Northern California, said racial discrimination has long given many people in Black communities a reason to be skeptical. by government agencies. In order for testing and tracing operations to be successful, he said, countries need to join groups that are trusted in these communities.
“It’s a reflection, of the experience that many have lived in the Black community,” he said. “It can be overcome, but it must be addressed.”
Countries other than Los Angeles have also seen resistance. In San Bernardino County, only about 25 percent of the cases investigated shared who their close contacts were, a spokesman said. Merced County had so much difficulty gathering information that it simply stopped doing contact tracking altogether, CalMatters reported.
Michael Osur, Riverside County’s assistant director of public health, said his team met people who were afraid to talk to a contact tracer they could release.
“We have certain businesses that tell their people not to cooperate with us, and there tends to be more people of color working in those industries,” he said, referring to the food processing workers and the farm workers.
Contact tracking efforts in California have also been hampered by reports of scammers posing as trackers and trying to get a person’s money or Social Security number, as well as the national scourge of robocalls that make people less likely to answer phones to unknown numbers.
Officials in Stanislaus County, California’s Central Valley, told a new conference last week that they realized their public health phone number didn’t have a caller ID, some thing they are trying to fix.
Ultimately, health experts say, what they need more than anything to make contact tracking more valuable is public cooperation with health care measures. social breakdown and surface coating.
“We need people to wear masks. Out,” said George Rutherford, an epidemiologist at the University of California at San Francisco, who designed a training program for contact tracking.
“Along with staying out of liquor stores, this will reduce case rates. The fewer cases, the easier it will be.”