CHICAGO (CBS) – Dangerous variants, reluctance to vaccinate and large family gatherings; this formula keeps contact tracers busy – so busy that the city speeds up contact tracing operations.
Morning Insider Tim McNicholas shows us what it’s like to work for a small community health center under contract with City Hall.
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It’s a phone call you don’t want to receive. The Facia Edwards contact tracer recently registered with a Chicago family exposed to COVID-19.
“Runny nose? Traffic jams? Is she still coughing? Edwards asked on a recent call.
She learned that a child in the family contracted the virus at school, then it spread to mom.
“They come home, and they bring it home, and then if the mom or dad or other siblings in that situation aren’t vaccinated, they’ll get it too,” Edwards said.
The recent surge in COVID cases is keeping Edwards busy, along with other contact tracers at PCC Community Wellness, a health center that also provides COVID testing.
Anyone who tests positive then receives a phone call from one of the CCP’s contact tracers. The number of positive cases from the CCP’s tests fell from just 8 positive cases in mid-September to 35 in mid-November.
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Add those exposed to those who tested positive, and contact tracers were already making more calls than usual before Thanksgiving. Now, the CCP’s director of care coordination Jessie Reuteler says the numbers remain high.
“We are starting to see an increase in the number of positive cases that we are calling since Thanksgiving,” Reuteler said. “With omicron raising its head, reuniting with family members is a very risky thing to do if people aren’t vaccinated. “
CCP personnel say they make the most calls in areas with low immunization rates.
After a year as a contact tracer, Edwards knows some calls are more difficult than others.
“I had a few deaths that really touched me, because I had just spoken to them, and then when I called back two days later, they were gone. So it was very emotional for me, ”said Edwards.
She’s happy with the latter follow-up, however; the whole family was still there.
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The city says it is shifting resources and adding staff to try to bolster its contact tracing efforts. This includes the transfer of 100 employees who were focusing on vaccine education to their original goal as contact tracers.