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COVID contact tracers thwarted by Caller ID

FILE -- Tara Scribellito, a nursing supervisor with the Salt Lake County Health Department, talks about pulling workers from other public health divisions to help trace the contacts of people infected with COVID-19 during an interview in Salt Lake City on Friday, April 10, 2020. Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY—  “Salt Lake County Health Department” doesn’t come up on Caller ID when they call you, and that’s a problem for contact tracers.  The Salt Lake County Health Department’s lead contact tracer says they had to buy lots of new phones for all the new contact tracers, and those phones are not equipped to show “SLCO Health Dept.” 

“It just shows them the raw number,” lead contact tracer Lee Cherie Booth. Because of that, those calls are rejected, often because people think it’s a robocall or phishing attempt

PEOPLE THINK IT’S SPAM OR DON’T BELIEVE THEY ARE WHO THEY SAY THEY ARE

Booth says because Caller ID doesn’t recognize their new numbers, it results in a lot of people not being informed that they’ve been exposed to COVID.  At least immediately.

“Maybe 30 to 40 percent of first-time calls (we make), we don’t get an answer,”  Booth said saying they then leave voicemails, and text, and shoot emails. Or call at a different time of day.  

But still, even when they can get someone to pick up the phone, it’s can be futile. “We’ve had people say, ‘I don’t believe you… I don’t believe who you are.’  And then they will hang up.  Or… ‘I don’t want to talk to you.’  And hang up.”

BAD INFO DOESN’T HELP EITHER

If all else fails, they will even send a letter.  But this is assuming they have the right mailing address.  “We can get bad information, says Booth. “Sometimes people will put incorrect information on their (intake forms) at the testing center. So the data that we get is old or incomplete.  And we’re unable to contact these people. 

SOME PEOPLE NEVER KNOW THEY ARE EXPOSED

Of all these people that either don’t believe, or never answer, or can’t be mailed a letter, Booth says they do eventually contact most of them. Of course, they could have infected many people in the time they’ve blown off picking up the phone. But she says some just completely slip through the cracks, and never get wind that they are exposed. “Probably 1 in 15 we’re never able to get in touch with.”

Booth says she just wants people to believe in what they say — and pick up the phone.

“The (Salt Lake County Health Department) is not here to sell you anything or gather information.  We’d just want to provide you with health information about COVID (and get you the tools you and others need to stay safe.)  We are just (trying to stop) people from getting infected.”   

 


How To Prevent the Spread of COVID-19 Coronavirus

COVID-19 coronaviruses transmitted from person to person. It is a virus that is similar to the common cold and the flu. So, to prevent it from spreading:

  • Wash hands frequently and thoroughly, with soap and water, for at least 20 seconds.
  • Don’t touch your face.
  • Keep children and those with compromised immune systems away from someone who is coughing or sneezing (in this instance, at least six feet)
  • If there is an outbreak near you, practice social distancing (stay at home, instead of going to the movies, sports events, or other activities.)
  • Get a flu shot.

Local resources

KSL Coronavirus Q&A

Utah’s Coronavirus Information

Utah State Board of Education

Utah Hospital Association

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Utah Coronavirus Information Line – 1-800-456-7707

National Resources

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Commonly asked questions, World Health Organization

Cases in the United States