Behind the scenes: Henrico contact tracers help battle the coronavirus pandemic

Coronavirus

HENRICO COUNTY, Va. — Contact tracers are the front line fighters of the pandemic who work behind the scenes. These unsung heroes are battling the virus all over the state, including right here in Henrico.

8News shadowed Abdelrahman Abdelrahman, a contact tracer in Henrico County who graduated from VCU as a Health Science major.

According to the Virginia Department of Health’s website contact tracers find people who may have been exposed to an illness and proved guidance to prevent them from spreading it.

“Contact tracing is not a new tool – public health uses it every day for other contagious diseases like measles and tuberculosis (TB),” the VDH’s website said. “It is an important part of how Virginia can stop the spread of COVID-19.”

Abdelrahman said he had a personal reason for working to stop the virus.

“My mom was infected with it so it was concerning seeing her health so I really did want to get out to others and see how they’re feeling. Every time I make a call it is a little bit sentimental because I think of my mother,” said Abdelrahman.

There are currently 22 contact tracers for Richmond and Henrico, 14 for VCU, and four for the University of Richmond.

To help reach all citizens the VDH has a language line and contact tracers that speak multiple languages. In our area, five contact tracers speak Spanish which the VDH said is equivalent to the Latino population. Abderlrahman is a multilingual contact tracers — he speaks both English Arabic.

So what should you expect if a contact tracer calls you? Abderlrahman said interviewers will ask for date of birth, address, race, and ethnicity. They will also ask about symptoms and any recent known exposure to COVID-19, and may request an email address to provide additional resources.

However, the VDH will never ask for your social security number, immigration status, or financial information. Information collected during interviews is used only by public health agencies. The information is protected in a secure system and interviewers operate under strict confidentiality rules.  

8News asked Abdelrahman how people react when they hear they have been exposed to the virus.

“Typically people are aware of the exposure that they had if they were exposed to someone who tested positive,” Abdelrahman said. “Some people do take it seriously and quarantine right away. Others, do need a little bit of a push and us telling them you do need to be in quarantine and isolate yourselves to help protect the health of others around you including your friends and family so it depends on the person.”

He added some contact tracers have also run into people who believe COVID-19 is bogus.

“It is very serious and we do encourage quarantine, isolation, if you are exposed to the virus to help protect yourself, family, and friends,” Abdelrahman said. “For individuals that do believe they’re recieving calls and it’s not from the VDH, we do refer them to the Virginia Department of Health.”

Abdelrahman said the biggest challenge is getting people to pick up the phone.

“We keep trying, we just keep trying,” Abdelrahman said. “The biggest part of the job is trying to get in contact with someone. That first call is our stepping stone.”

Another issue contact tracers face is people mistaking them for a scam call.

“We are not. We’re trying to help you and help understand how your health is over time and if you’re infected or not by the disease,” Abdelrahman said.

For more information, visit VDH’s website.

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