Jana De Brauwere works for the San Francisco Library, but since the beginning of April, she’s been a COVID-19 contact tracer, a job she was inspired to choose because it helps her to trace and contain the CCP virus in her community. She also acts as a counselor and connects people to resources that can help them during the quarantine.
Contact tracing involves calling and interviewing people who have tested positive for the CCP virus and identifying and connecting with people who have been in close contact with the infected person, providing them guidance on how to stay well and further limit the spread of the pandemic.
“I thought that it would be really easy to call people and it really isn’t. There’s so much more behind it, and you really have to prepare for the interview,” Brauwere told The Epoch Times over the phone, adding that she had thought that her experience as a librarian would come useful in contact tracing.
As the country starts to further recover from the pandemic and reopen, contact tracing becomes indispensable—the CDC defines it as a key strategy for preventing the further spread of the pandemic.
“Immediate action is needed,” the CDC wrote while asking communities to train large workforces across private and public agencies to contain the spread of the virus. That’s why Brauwere, who works as the program manager of the Business Science and Technology Department of San Francisco Library, started contact tracing.
For Brauwere’s colleague Ramses Escobedo, the manager of the branch library in the busy Mission Street in the Excelsior, working as a contact tracer came as a call for “public service.”
Escobedo said that while contact tracing, he has talked to people who didn’t have food for 14 days and also others who lost jobs during the pandemic. He was able to direct them to financial resources.
“So just kind of providing relief for the communities in your time of need. And also letting them know that … we care about their well being. And of course, our main goal is to flatten the curve on the virus,” said Escobedo.
Calling People to Contact Trace
Contact tracing is not novel to COVID-19, it has been used as a strategy for controlling the spread of other diseases like tuberculosis and hepatitis, and as part of their normal operations, the health departments have contact tracers investigate disease outbreaks. But these numbers had to be exponentially scaled up for the CCP virus pandemic and for that, governments had to urgently hire new people and train them.
Private and public agencies set up teams—Escobedo is the leader of a team of 5 to 6 contact tracers. The contact tracers, according to him, have a script to follow.
“So we have questions regarding personal information, names, confirm the address if they have an email address we enter it into the database,” he said, adding that contact tracers also check if people have any symptoms and if they need to be isolated.
Contact tracers may also find housing for those who need to be isolated and help them with food supplies.
Brauwere said that “several times” she has called families with children and seniors who tested positive.
“When we call families they usually already know they tested positive and already have been given information on what that means when they got the results. In that case, I just go over the recommended guidelines for isolation and try to find out if they need any help to be able to isolate,” she said.
Connecting with People
Brauwere and Escobedo both consider connecting with people to be the main aspect of their role as a COVID-19 contact tracer—something they emphasize is very important for their success.
Brauwere is from the Czech Republic, but can speak Spanish and she contact traces with Spanish speakers. “I am Czech but also speak Spanish and this has been a great opportunity for me to connect to Spanish speakers. I am a first-generation immigrant and understand well what it can be like to rely on others for help,” she said.
Escobedo also contact traces with the Latino community and said he feels “super fortunate” to work with them. He said his job at the library, where he helps connect people with resources, helps him with his role as a contact tracer.
“I knew that it was a perfect angle. Because me being Latino can also help you know, reaching out to the community, you’re able to create rapport with them,” he said.
When asked if she had to ever veer off the script, Brauwere said “not really.”
“I ask the questions and listen to what people have to say about their situation. Even though there are questions I need to ask, this is a human conversation and sometimes people share more about their situation, sometimes less. In either case, I listen and see if there are resources I can connect them with to make their situation better,” she said.
Brauwere said it makes her sad to see people in distress. “Many of these families are asked to stay home but they depend on their income to pay the rent etc … many don’t have access to healthcare and many are running out of food. These people could be my parents or my relatives. I interview people and listen.
“If I find out during the interview that they need food, health or cleaning supplies, financial support, or housing support, I can refer them to a social worker or 311-service in the area so they can get help,” she said.
Managing the Stress
Brauwere said every day before and after her shift, her team has a group debriefing and she destresses by sharing her experiences with the team.
“Mostly I just talk to my family and garden a lot to get rid of my own anxiety,” she said, adding that contact tracing has helped her develop as a human being.
“They say we are a sum of our experience and that’s true. It is precisely my experience of growing up in Prague during Communism, coming to the U.S. and having to adapt to an entirely different culture, living in survival mode for many years, that makes me who I am and it is because of my lived experience that I can empathize with people I am calling,” she said.
Escobedo said he draws inspiration by being in a position to help people. “In this case, a lot of people are going through a difficult situation and that’s even more important,” he said adding that he gets “satisfaction” by connecting people to what they need.
“I’m happy that I’m able to contribute to the collective effort,” he said.