This Contact Tracer Is Fighting Two Contagions: The Virus and Fear – The New York Times

Chris Finnie, who at 70 is in a high-risk category, teaches an adult ceramics class in central California that has been on hold since March. Last month, in line with reopening guidelines, she decided to offer a makeup class. She moved the pottery wheels outside, put out hand sanitizer and sprayed down contact points before and after the class.

Two students came. Two days later, one of them emailed her to say she had tested positive. That result should have been conveyed by the lab to county health officials. But in an interview one week after the class, Ms. Finney said her student had yet to be contacted by the Santa Cruz County Health Department, and as a result, neither had she. “It’s very confusing,” Ms. Finney said.

In Los Angeles County, where the number of tracers has gone from 200 to 2,600, Ms. Kumar and her colleagues are better equipped to keep up; once they are notified of a case, they are able to attempt to follow-up within a day more than 94 percent of the time.

But they are grappling with a more basic challenge: Getting people to answer the phone. Response rates vary, but in Los Angeles, they are so worrisomely low that the county is now offering $20 gift cards to people who complete an interview. Each day, tracers tackle a log of somewhere around 3,000 to 4,000 calls, said Dr. Jeffrey Gunzenhauser, the chief medical officer for the Los Angeles County Public Health Department.

On an average day, they might complete roughly half, meaning 1,500 to 2,000 roll into the next day, along with whatever new cases pop up. The county attempts to contact a person on three consecutive days before labeling the case a refusal.

Over the most recent seven-day period for which data was available, less than 60 percent of people who tested positive for the virus agreed to an interview.

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