The Information Specialists or simply known as Librarians faces a new arena as the pandemic takes it toil. Librarian becomes a disease detective and tracks down the deadly virus.
For instance, Ms Jensa Woo, a librarian from San Francisco Public Library for nearly 30 years, she’s used to being surrounded by piles of data and information tracing. But now the game has changed and she’s living it and writing her own story as a COVID-19 contact tracer ready to fight the deadly virus.
“Even though I didn’t know what a contact tracer does, I thought, ‘I’m going to enlist, I think that the skills I have as a librarian are going to be pretty easily translatable into being a contact tracer.” Said Woo.
Hence, contact tracers play an important job in reducing the spread of coronavirus. Contact tracing is done by reaching out by phone to people who have tested positive for the coronavirus and then track down individuals who they may have physical contact with the patient. Through this, close contacts are considered at high risk of becoming infected and are asked to quarantine and be monitored for 14 days for observation and medication.
Among the states in the US, California was the first who develop a contact tracing program. San Francisco’s Department of Health collaborated with the University of California San Francisco (UCSF) in April. Woo is one of city workers who have been recruited and trained for the said initiative.
“When we speak with the contact, we’re asking them personal questions like, living situation, demographic information, age, health and whether or not they have enough resources to isolate,” she said. “Typically we will ask, ‘Do you have enough food? Can you get food for that 14-day period? Do you have enough cleaning supplies?'”
Woo works four shift, seven days a week. She is assigned a list of potential contacts that either live or work in the Bay Area in her four shifts. She uses a database and information outsource to keep track of all the contacts she has interviewed and list down the given data for further information tracking.
“I will look to see if any are pressing because they are considered high-risk. We’re told to just prioritize in a particular way. So, I will attend to those first,” she said. “I will also look to see, ‘Oh, is this a cluster? Is there a family that’s involved?’ And then try to just group the calls, so that I don’t have to keep calling back and it’s the same number or it’s the same household.”
Many of her clients have appreciated her work. She gives her hundred percent efforts to make sure they have sustained their necessities.
“Overall, the contacts that I’ve spoken with are very receptive and they’re generally grateful that somebody is looking in on them and providing them with resources … if they need to self-isolate,” Woo said.
A paradigm shift took place in March. The work descriptions of all city employees were changed as “Disaster Service Workers” and were reassigned to different sectors. Woo was one of the first cluster of employees to complete the prescribed training. She said the daily work is “quite intense but satisfying.”
“This is an unsettling time for many people. I think that this just helps to extend kindness and help and to serve other people,” she said.
According to the study from the Bloomberg School’s Center for Health Security estimated the US will need at least 100,000 contact tracers to fight the COVID-19 as all 50 states reopen.On the other hand, the governors talk about the need to recruit and train an “army” of contact tracers to track down the possible cases of coronavirus in the state.
“It was one (of the), if not the most, potent public health instrument in our attempt to blunt the spread of the virus,” Alexander Miamen, a Harvard Medical School student said. With utmost knowledge and experience, he knows the vitality and effectiveness of contact tracing after during the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa.
And for about three weeks, he has been contact tracer now with the Massachusetts Department of Health and Partners in Health, a nonprofit that collaborated with the state to train more than 1,300 people for recruitment. That’s only a fraction of the more than 48,000 who have applied through the organization.
The only and effective key to contact tracing is empathy and interpersonal communication skills, Miamen said. Contract tracers have to be warm and concerned to the needs of the people. They have to be portrayed as a friend of the person they are calling and be hospitable.
“The first thing I ask them is, ‘How are you feeling?’ These people already know of the test results. It’s not breaking news to them, but we help them process that. It’s grief for them at some level. So empathize with them, and after that, try to educate them.”
Human contact tracers can be challenging as they need to be perceived as an ally. Having a “listening ear” to help throughout this process is really a must, Miamen said. Hence, with the advent of technology, a contact tracing technology using smartphones and Bluetooth technology to alert those who may have been close to someone infected is currently develop by Apple and Google are developing.
“This pandemic is not affecting everyone equally,” he said. “Most of these immigrants don’t even want to interact with the public health system because of the current political atmosphere and their distrust of systems.”
Hispanic unemployment hits at nearly 19% — an all-time high, and higher than any other demographic. Black unemployment isn’t far behind, at nearly 17%. Both minority groups are also more likely to suffer with conditions, such as asthma and diabetes, which would worsen for someone tested positive by coronavirus. Also according to the fatality rate, African-Americans are dyingat higher rates from coronavirus compared to all other races.
“Immigrants are the ones working at the front line, they have a disproportional exposure to COVID-19. I care about everyone affected by Covid-19, but that’s the set of the population I empathize with the most, just because of my life experience,” Miamen said. “Bringing that to the table and being able to connect with them at that level has been indispensable.”