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The conversation that happens when you get a contact tracing call

Pierce County's contact tracing team. (Tacoma-Pierce County Public Health)

One of the keys to keeping the coronavirus under control is contact tracing, which helps sort out the source of outbreaks and potentially contain them. Kim Steele-Peter is the public health branch director for Pierce County and helps supervise the contact tracing program.

“We have approximately 32 people, and it’s like a beehive,” she told KIRO Radio’s Dave Ross. “There are people buzzing around. They’re calling people who have tested positive for COVID-19. One of the first things that they’re gonna ask someone who has tested positive is ‘How are you feeling? How are you doing? What can we help you with?'”

But at some point, they have to ask who you have been within six feet of unmasked. So how does how does that part of the conversation go?

“It could be … ‘What I need to know is who have you been around since you’ve had symptoms and two days before your symptoms started.’ … We would not give out your name when we were talking with your close contacts, and we do everything possible to not even allude to who it might be.”

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While names aren’t given out, quarantine will be recommended nonetheless for 14 days since they were last around the person who may have infected them. If they can’t quarantine because of work or family issues, what then?

“We have that happen all the time,” she said. “We have a whole slew of resources in place where somebody can stay if they need to quarantine away from other family members. There is assistance with paying bills.”

“We know we’re making a big ask for people to stay out of work, to stay out of other facilities like grocery stores. And so we have a system in place that we have phone numbers and referrals so that somebody can get assistance.”

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Steele-Peter says she’s mostly been met with cooperation, and the defiance against things like contact tracing, masks, or coronavirus ordinances is mostly a vocal minority.

“I think the vast majority of people are scared. If we’re contacting them, either they are sick or they know somebody who is sick, and this is an illness that we know is killing people, and it’s not an easy death,” she said.

“People are frightened, and they really appreciate having someone with some expertise and taking the time to talk to them and walk them through what to expect, and knowing that there is a helping hand on the other end, that if they need it, we’re there.”

Listen to Seattle’s Morning News weekday mornings from 5 – 9 a.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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