A key line of defense against coronavirus is contact tracing, tracking the steps of an infected person, and contacting others who may have received advice on testing, self-quarantine, and available resources.
It was an uphill battle to train contact tracers for the hard work in Orange County. On Thursday, health officials reported an additional 348 new cases, bringing the county’s total to 42,171.
Although many more have been trained, officials from the Orange County Health Care Agency confirmed Thursday that the agency only has 185 employees involved in tracking coronavirus cases.
In low-income areas and color communities like Santa Ana and Anaheim, where infection rates are 20 times higher than the national average, the challenges of contact tracing can also be exponentially higher.
The same barriers preventing residents from accessing health information and services can also make it difficult for tracers to connect with contacts who may be suspicious of providing information about their whereabouts and associations to a government agency.
To break down these barriers while increasing the number of potential contact tracers working directly in the communities hardest hit by COVID-19, UC Irvine has partnered with the Orange County Health Care Agency and local health associations to help members of the Teaching Churches How To Contact Persecution in the neighborhoods where they live and work.
On July 20, the first virtual meeting with more than 450 participants took place in a four-week workshop on health justice tracing. The organizers shared the goals and scope of the project in English and Spanish.
“Nothing will stop this pandemic better than an informed, resourceful and unified community,” said Bernadette Boden-Albala, dean of public health for the UCI, during the opening remarks. “We would like to give the participants of all of you an opportunity to see yourself as part of the larger community effort and to clarify your unique purpose within that effort.”
The dean’s audience consisted of community activists, UCI students, health care workers and affected citizens who had signed up as trainees and facilitators.
Among them was David Carbajal, a care coordinator for a community health center in Santa Ana. The 27-year-old Santa Ana resident leads a cohort of about a dozen Spanish-speaking participants who live in the area and who, in his opinion, are ideally suited to the difficult work of contact tracing.
“There is no one who does this job better than those who live in the trenches,” Carbajal said in an interview on Thursday. “They understand the need – it’s so real to them because it’s something they live for themselves.”
Now, in the third week of the program, participants have had about eight hours of synchronous interactive group sessions each week, as well as one-on-one studies testing them on key principles before moving on to the next module.
Daniel Parker, a UCI assistant professor of public health who helped shape the curriculum, said the workshop began with a discussion of health equity and how and why certain health disparities exist.
It then takes a look at the basic health sciences behind the coronavirus and COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, before going into the mechanisms of contact tracing.
According to Parker, intense conversations, breakout sessions, and role-playing exercises are an integral part of the coursework.
“The best approach was to raise people from the community and give them the tools to do so,” he said of the workshop.
“These communities may be concerned about government officials coming in and taking surveys,” he continued. “[But] If you come from a place or neighborhood, you already have something in common with the people you speak to and they will find it easier for them to be more open to you. “
At the end of the workshop, students who have participated in both self-study and synchronous group learning will receive a certificate confirming their education. The hope, Parker said, is that the knowledge will turn them into marketable candidates for contact tracing positions.
For Giomarell Feliciano, a 34-year-old Redlands resident who completed his medical degree in the Dominican Republic and plans to do a Masters in Public Health and Nutrition from Loma Linda University in the fall, is the information he shared in the workshop learns a reward enough.
“The knowledge we all get will help us on a larger scale and in our communities,” he said. “Even if you don’t get a job [contact tracing] You can still do your part in the community you are in. “