Contract tracers face distrust and unanswered calls


NORTHWEST ARKANSAS, (KNWA/KFTA) — Once you test positive for COVID-19, you can expect a call from a case investigator with the department of health to start contact tracing. They work to find out who you have been around but not everyone is receptive to those calls.

A local resident said she did not trust giving her information to a complete stranger.

“He asked me for my name and birthdate and I said I don’t know you and I don’t feel comfortable giving that to you.”

Sandy, who wants to remain anonymous, got her first call from the Arkansas Department of Health on July 26, 11 days after testing positive for COVID-19.  She received a second call a few days later.

“He said we will keep calling you until you cooperate I then hung up because I felt threatened,” said Sandy.

Dr. Jennifer Dillaha with the ADH said it’s the department’s responsibility to track down those who are COVID-19 positive and those who may have been exposed. Although she admits there is some delay in response, someone can be infectious for 10 days. Dillaha said it’s important the contact tracers reach everyone.

“We try very hard to win their trust and make sure they have ways to verify that the caller is who they say they are,” said Dr. Dillaha.

Sandy did call the ADH and the caller was a legitimate contact tracer but that wasn’t enough.

“I don’t know what they’re doing with that information. I don’t know if it can be used against me later on as a pre-existing condition to an insurance question. I just don’t know.”

Dr. Dillaha said all of the information collected is stored in a secure database and protected by HIPAA laws. She said a case investigator or contact tracers will confirm your name and birthdate to make sure they have the right person. They will never ask for a social security number or financial information.

Sandy said she doesn’t think anything could have changed her mind but she did reach out to the people she was in close contact with which the ADH recommends on top of the contact tracer’s efforts.

“We really do depend on the cooperation of people in the community to help stop  the chain of transmission.”

If someone does not feel comfortable they can email the ADH or call the COVID line to verify the caller at 800 803-7847.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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