Why some Angelenos are volunteering to be COVID-19 contact tracers

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Contact tracing could help LA County re-flatten its coronavirus curve. A contact tracer can identify who may have the virus and who they may have transmitted it to. 

Barbara Ferrer, director of the LA County Department of Public Health, said that less than half of people with COVID-19 who’ve been contacted by the county have provided information about their close contacts. 

The government has tapped some city employees like librarians for the job. But others are volunteering to do it.

“I wasn’t necessarily looking [at contact tracing] as a future job,” says Denise Swindell, an actor and server who just completed an 11-hour John Hopkins certification course. “But then this could be something for me to do. My server job is gone, the acting industry is gone for the time being. And I could work from home if I want, and I’d be helping people, so it all sort of fell into place.” 

As a librarian, Lupie Levya works for the City of LA that has a disaster service program. And Levya volunteered to be a part of the program as a contact tracer. She needed to take a week-long course from the LA County Department of Public Health — in conjunction with UCLA and the California Department of Public Health. 

“A lot of the training is HIPAA [compliant],” says Levya. “And one of the main things is that you never tell people who it was who identified them as a contact, so confidentiality is a huge thing.” 

She explains how the process works: “You do have to let them know that they have been exposed. You do have to let them know that they do have to quarantine, they have to change their lives. You have to know the difference between isolation, which is for someone who is sick, and quarantine, which is for someone who has been exposed. … You provide resources and referrals because it’s not an easy thing to stay home for 10-14 days. People have needs, be they for groceries or for income.”