LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) — Health officials in Los Angeles County have been ramping up contact tracing in an effort to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Radhika Kumar, a public health specialist, is one of the now 1,500 contact tracers in the county — most of whom are city and county employees — calling Angelenos who have tested positive for COVID-19 or who might have been exposed.
"Sometimes they are expecting the call, sometimes they are not expecting the call," Kumar said. "So, it's very important that, within the first few minutes, to make sure that we build a rapport."
Tracers are given interview scripts based on various scenarios when they start, including how to start the conversation with someone who might have been exposed.
"We'll say, 'You may have some into contact with someone who tested positive, so here are some of the things that we need for you to do to make sure we're curbing that infection,'" Kumar said.
For those who have tested positive, Kumar said tracers talk about the person's symptoms, contacts with people and where they had been leading up to their diagnosis.
Health officials said they now ask if the person has been in ride shares, has traveled through airports and whether there was potential exposure through work or family members.
"We are very, very careful to make sure that information remains confidential," Kumar said. "That is a very important part of what we do."
Officials also said education was a key part of what tracers do.
For those who have symptoms, tracers tell them to isolate until their fever has been gone for three days, their respiratory symptoms improve and it has been at least 10 days since their first symptom.
For those who test positive, but do not have symptoms, tracers tell them to stay home for at least 10 days after taking the test. If they develop symptoms during that time, they are advised to follow the above protocol.
"The goal is to get close to 3,000 contact tracers for L.A. County just to keep up with the increase in cases and make sure that we have adequate numbers of people to make phone calls to people diagnosed with COVID and all of their contacts," Dr. Sonali Kulkarni said.
Kulkarni is the medical director of L.A. County's division of HIV and STD programs. She has now been tasked with helping to manage the COVID-19 contact tracing efforts.
She said collecting health information is always sensitive, so the tracers hired have to be good listeners and not pass judgement.
"If they do share that they did something that may be not appropriately socially distanced, we don't provide judgement or do anything to sort of make them feel bad about that," she said.
Calls will either come from an 866 number or will come through as L.A. County Health on caller ID, and health officials say answering the phone, or returning missed calls, is important to the effort to prevent further spread of COVID-19.
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