New York contact tracer shares 2020 Christmas wish: “I want to be fired”

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While others dream of a white Christmas, Queens contact tracer Joseph Ortiz wishes for a pink slip.

“I want to be fired. If I’m out of work, that means COVID-19 no longer exists, ”said Ortiz, 31, who has worked for the New York City Test and Trace Corps since May. “My job would no longer be necessary and it would be a dream come true. We could all move on.

But no. Ortiz, 31, a longtime New Yorker with a master’s degree in public health, knows wishes don’t always come true – even with a vaccine that gets emergency use clearance from the FDA.

Read also : Here’s when most Americans will be able to get the COVID-19 vaccine

Amid a fierce second wave of coronavirus, the city’s testing and tracing operation that tracks COVID-19 cases to stop infections is currently bolstering staff by around 12.5%, without downsizing . New York City’s testing and tracing initiative takes place separately from the New York State program, according to a body press representative. City operations report to the mayor and share data with the state.

Additional staff for the New York City initiative, which has a billion dollar budget in municipal and federal funds, began in late November, according to NYC Test and Trace Corps deputy executive director Jackie. Bray. “We are hiring about 500 more people in anticipation of the second wave,” she said.

New recruits will join nearly 4,000 contact tracers, a diverse group that speaks 40 languages. A recent push has added more Yiddish and Russian-speaking contact tracers. Expansion efforts are primarily focused on communities most affected by COVID-19.

What is the typical profile of a member of the contact-traceur team? They are people of all races and backgrounds, and nearly 70% female, according to Bray.

“Public health care is a field dominated by women,” she said. “In some ways it’s emotional work. You are on the phone with people in what can be really difficult times for them.

And the difficult moments follow one another. “We started accepting new applications and doing new interviews about two weeks ago,” Bray told MarketWatch on Dec. 8, adding that the body attrition rate of less than 10% was lower than that. that she had expected. “It is an incredibly labor-intensive job. To do great contact tracing, you need a ton of people. ”

Public cooperation is also required, a barrier that has eased somewhat over the past seven months.

“People are reluctant to share their private health information or any information with a complete stranger,” said Ortiz, whose field work as a community engagement specialist means he’s knocked on New York’s door. -Yorkais. Yes, some of those doors were slammed in his face.

“It happens all the time,” he said. On the other hand, Ortiz said colleagues had been invited to lunch by some residents. (Invitations have been declined, he added.)

A tracker can make ten calls during a typical day.

“There are always people who don’t want to get involved,” Ortiz said. “Making sure the public’s trust is there helps. Hiring people from the communities they work in and who know them is part of building that trust. When you build trust, people are more likely to engage. “

According to Bray, the numbers from Test and Trace Corps speak for it. “We have handled over 102,000 cases,” she said, adding that they were meeting the desired goals. “We wanted to reach 90% of the cases and we wanted to complete the care with 75% of the cases. ”

“When we contact, we want 75% of cases to complete interviews with us and follow up on a daily basis,” she continued. “We don’t speak to you just once. We talk to you every day throughout your isolation or quarantine. “

“Basically it’s a massive phone operation,” Bray said. “But if you don’t have a phone, we’ll come find you.” About 600 tracers work in person, she added. “It’s their job to find someone we can’t find over the phone.”

See: Queens, NY, ICU nurse becomes first person in US to receive COVID-19 vaccine

Phone and foot contact continue and intensify as the second wave of COVID-19 hits. As a case investigator with a graduate degree in public health whose job it is to connect with individuals as well as with workplaces, Sivanthy Vasanthan, 24, resident of Washington Heights, knows it too well.

“I have no training in epidemiology, but those who have said they expect a second wave in late fall or early winter and that’s exactly what happened. “she said. “I am absolutely worried. Of course it’s scary.

“What has been disheartening is not the work itself,” she said. “Knowing that I’m a little busier than before is scarier because of what it means for the city.

“It’s been a long time since March,” Vasanthan said, adding that there was fatigue about social distancing and wearing the mask. “One of my wishes is to help people find the energy to keep doing all of this.”

More news on New York City: Vaccines, while extremely welcome, come too late for many

Beyond wishes, she, like others in her field, has concrete benchmarks for success. One measure is to hit all the cases she has assigned. The other is about a deeper connection.

“Life events are truly personal. They leave a mark, ”she said. “So when someone opens up to me – a complete stranger – and shares an amazing life experience. It really makes us appreciate what we do and why it is so important.

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