Every Case Is Different: A Look At An Illinois Contact Tracer's First Weeks On The Job

3 hours ago
Originally published on September 23, 2020 11:51 am

Illinois has devoted more than $230 million across every county in the state for COVID-19 contact tracing.

Randall Jeffay has been on the job at the DuPage County Health Department for less than a month, but he already knows each case is very different. He helped a 12-year-old boy by talking to his parents about his symptoms and where he’s been in the last two weeks, and a woman in her late 70s.

“You get to talk to people and try to be very empathetic and understanding because they're typically not that happy and a lot of the people -- a couple people that I've talked to -- very obviously they're quite sick.”

He works from home, reaching out to people with confirmed cases. The department tries to track down others with whom they’ve been in contact over the last several weeks.

More than 275,000 Illinois residents have tested positive for COVID-19. Cases increased as some schools and universities reopened. Jeffay says it’s pretty common to see students in his caseload these days.

His job is also to relay information about services they might need. The department can set up laundry, groceries or even housing for people that need to quarantine. They can also put them through to mental health support.

Jeffay also has to ask people who test positive to participate in email or text message monitoring. That way they can report symptoms during their isolation -- and get access to community resources.

Although a few people refuse their health department’s text or email monitoring to keep up with their symptoms, he says a vast majority are helpful -- even if they’re asymptomatic.

“They’ve told me how, ‘My wife locked me in the bedroom and put a table outside the door for my food and we don't have any contact. His wife is telling me well, you know I take care of him but we don't see each other talk and to try to use separate bathrooms,’” said Jeffay.

At this point in the pandemic, he said most people understand what they need to do to limit the spread of the infection.

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