In early 2019, as a California state worker I was working at home due to Covid-19 closing state buildings in downtown Sacramento. I was redirected to work on Covid-19 for the Los Angeles County Health Department. I learned I was to be a lead over 6 Contact Tracers who make calls and do interviews for people who tested positive for Covid virus. The training would require about one month and was rigorous but interesting. It required learning several new computer programs and a new system I was not accustomed to.
It wasn’t long before we all hit the ground running with our training and cases started pouring in of people of all ages, who were Covid positive. My job was to disposition cases and contacts after the Contact Tracers on my team did the interviews. Day-in-and-day-out we have read cases of hundreds of people. Whole families who became infected. People who were in the hospital barely hanging on to life. It tears at your heart to read the names and ages of these people. The people in their 80’s and 90’s, children, mothers and fathers. I would wake up thinking about how older people had made it so far in life to be taken out so suddenly by this horrible virus. Husbands, wives, and children hospitalized at the same time. Babies under 1 year old. I would think of what Covid will do their health in the future and the families who suffered losses of loved ones. Not to mention families losing their bread winners who suddenly were looking at weeks and months of illness and hospitalizations. The surge in the last months of 2020 was the worst. The names, ages and occupations would just start blurring there were so many.
I wanted to tell people they shouldn’t have parties, celebrate holidays with getting together. Just please do this for a year. The next might be better and you will have your loved ones still. But it was soon observed a lot of people just weren’t patient enough to listen. Cases would read children exposed at Halloween parties, Thanksgiving gatherings, sports celebrations.
I have to say the political climate was baffling to me as worked on the project. To hear elected officials who denounced protections like wearing masks. As if we didn’t need all the protections we could get to slow the spread and things like that turned into a political football was just ridiculous. I wanted to scream like the character in Horton Hears a Who “Hey people wake up, open your eyes! So many people are suffering and keep your politics out of this! I knew this wouldn’t change many minds. but somehow like a primal scream might help my stress level.
I am still working on the project. The surge has dissipated, but it seems like we are waiting for variants from the viral mutations that threaten to emerge from the darkness and cause the next one. This is a project where we all know success means we are no longer needed to work on it. That somehow one day we will turn on our computers in the morning and have no cases in “our ques” to work on. In the meantime, I am proud I have been able to be a part of this contact tracing project. Hopefully, many people have been able to be directed through the health department to get needed resources for quarantining, food/shelter resources or simply shared with interviewers their stories and hardships. I hope the effort with the thousands of people deployed to the Covid-19 project in California will make a difference by being a model of response if we ever go through this again. Holding on to hope seems like all I can do.
Submitted by KayLynn Newhart, Placer County – Placerville.