The human touch, two unsung heroes of the front lines of the pandemic


SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC4 News) –  There are two unsung points of human compassion that have been significant throughout the coronavirus pandemic. Not only are these heroes situated where they’re needed most, but they’re also who you may least expect: the contact tracer and the community health worker.

When people become sick, it’s terrifying. They’re immediately faced with the very real question of life and death. When they test positive, they are instructed to isolate. Sometimes people end up in the hospital where they are alone, without human warmth like before the start of COVID-19—distance and separation necessary for everyone’s safety.

Jessica Huynh Lead Contact Tracer Salt lake county

There are also those first moments when you find out you have it. You are positive. What happens now? To your job, your resources, your family?

In this uncertainty, that’s when two of the pandemics’ most unsung heroes step in to help. The Contact Tracer, and the Community Health Worker.

Once a person is determined to be positive for COVID-19, that’s when the Contact Tracer steps in to start asking questions and offer help in the crisis. With the pandemic’s sheer scale, you would think it would be purely clinical, but it’s not.

The Contact Tracer verifies the positive test with the person affected and identifies every place the person was 48 hours before their symptoms started and during their infectious period. They ask the person to contact the people they’ve been in contact with, if possible, to urge them to quarantine or isolate.

After getting the questions answered the contact tracer logs the information into the database, each interview offering up valuable information and helping form a picture of where the virus is, where it’s spreading, and potentially what areas are going to get hit the hardest.

“It’s more of a conversation and educational experience, says Jessica Huynh, a lead contact tracer for Salt Lake County. “It’s about being there for people.”

A registered nurse Jessica explained the process is similar to triage, sorting through what the patient needs.

(AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

Do they need food? Do they have employment concerns, rent concerns, child care concerns? Are they in an environment where they can’t be isolated? If any of these questions are yes, the contact tracer will put the patient in touch with the Community Health Worker.

The Community Health Worker helps connect the person to the right resources where they can get help. Jennifer Puder, a Community Health Worker supervisor in Salt Lake County, says the toughest part of the job is “Hearing how the virus has impacted them, have they lost their jobs, are they losing their house through rent or mortgage impacts?”

Jennifer Puder Community Health Worker Supervisor Salt Lake County

Puder explained to ABC4 News; they can’t promise help. All they can do is point the patient or the families in the right direction.

For example, if the patient needed food, the county has a partnership with the Utah Food Bank, and the community health workers have access to resources that can help get food delivered to the patient’s door.

“My favorite part of the job,” Jessica Hyunh says, “Is the bonding with the patients, the people who have tested positive.” “We’ve bonded, the people at work and the patients it’s brought us together even by phone.”

(AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Both Jen and Jessica pointed out that the patients have access to them through the crisis, giving them a place to turn in an experience that is largely done alone. They both think it is beneficial for the patients to know they can reach out.

Jessica said “It’s important we all come together and make it work.”

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