In June, this 30-something, female outer-borough resident joined the first ranks of NYC Health + Hospitals’ Test & Trace corps with the mission of helping stop the spread of COVID-19 by identifying those who may have been exposed to the novel virus. A worker of various service and health care jobs pre-pandemic, the contact tracer — who asked to remain anonymous for fear of work repercussions — told The Post that she fears the pandemic’s second wave has fully arrived in New York, and many more will soon be infected.
I’ve been a contact tracer since Day One. I’ve spoken to hundreds, maybe thousands of people. If you test positive, the first person you’re going to speak to usually is a case investigator. After that, you speak to me — or I call you if someone who tested positive lists you as a close contact.
Over the summer, there were times when things were slow, days when I had no calls. Not anymore.
Things really changed with the schools opening. Then we started talking to a lot of parents and teachers. Every once in a while I’d talk to a health care worker or someone in the Orthodox Jewish community. Sometime in early- to mid-November, it started to pick up and become more random. When people are irresponsible, it makes my job harder. After Thanksgiving weekend, there was a huge spike in cases — I got really busy. Now, the people I speak to come from everywhere. Some of them say they’ve hardly been out.
I hate telling people I’m busy at work. That’s not good information. And the higher-ups at Test & Trace are saying it’s only going to get more busy.
Our supervisors told us that even if it’s seeing a small increase in the amount of calls we’re personally starting to get, that spoke to rising levels of COVID. Since I learned that small thing, I’ve been paying attention, and now that it’s really increased, I’m alarmed. It didn’t use to be like this. That’s enough for me to know COVID’s second wave is here.
Everyone was hired for a year; our contracts go through June 2021. But I was told recently they think it will go longer than that.
With this job, it’s my work, but it’s also my life, ’cause I’m a New Yorker. They made a point of only hiring New Yorkers. They wanted people on the phone lines who really cared about the people they’re talking to and stopping the spread.
Most people I call know — they’re not surprised they have COVID. But since fall, I’ve started surprising more people with the news. Some calls, the people really don’t want to take it, but by the end we’re joking, laughing. All I can do is listen. It’s not a perfect system by any means, but we really are trying our best. New York state is strapped for resources and there’s misinformation flying around all over the place, so it’s understandable people think I’m just going to bother them and not help, but I know we’re making a difference.
I talk to people who don’t realize it’s gotten this bad. They’ve adjusted to a new life and they don’t want to make any more adjustments because they think they’ve done a pretty good job. They look at the stats, but they’ve adjusted their sense of fear.
It’s not like it was for a couple months: We had low numbers; New York had fun. We’re not there anymore — so don’t treat it like that. You have to have a really high level of trust with someone if you’re going to be in an enclosed space with them right now.
I’ve been following my own advice — I was dating and socializing for a little bit during the summer. Now I’m not doing either of those things — and I would like to, but it’s not worth it to me. There’s no one I’m close enough to at this point where it would be worth my taking a risk just for some physical pleasure.
I don’t know anything the public doesn’t, but I’m exposed to it all day. For me, looking at COVID stats is like learning the weather. Us contact tracers don’t have any secret knowledge, it’s more that we can’t look away from what we’re seeing, so there’s not really a whole lot of room for wishful thinking. It will only get worse.
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