Contact tracers say San Franciscans aren't always forthcoming about who they may have infected

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ByKate Larsen KGO logo
Thursday, November 26, 2020
SF contact tracers explain challenges of tracking COVID-19
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Contact tracers in San Francisco say they are "slammed" to the point of working double shifts to keep up with the demand.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- A surge of new coronavirus cases means Bay Area contact tracers can't keep up with the volume of calls.

"In the last two weeks we've just been slammed," said Shawna Sherman. "We're starting to double the length of our shifts."

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Pre-pandemic, Sherman was a San Francisco librarian. Now, she leads a team of contact tracers in the city whose workload has increased from about one call a day in September, to up to 10 calls a day right now, some of which involve hours of counseling.

"One guy talked to a mother of a newborn, who was a positive case. She was just having a hard time figuring out how to isolate and take care of her newborn baby." And when Sherman spoke to her tracer about the case, "we both got emotional on the call."

"We just want to get through it, that's just what we have to do."

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"It was Halloween day and I was chatting with people," said Christina Moretta, another San Francisco librarian turned contact tracer, who said people were telling her about their travel plans and social gatherings. "I was like oh my gosh, I feel it, the surge is going to happen."

It's clear that Moretta was right. Looking at San Francisco's COVID-19 dashboard, graphs show a steep spike in cases starting at the end of October.

Moretta is also a case investigator, which means she calls people who have tested positive for COVID and tries to find out who they may have infected.

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"It's during that infectious period that people are like, I went to a party and there were like 10 people, and then I went to a bar," she said.

When asked if people who test positive are forthcoming about other people they've been in contact with, Moretta said, "I want to say yes, but not always."

"Some people don't want to modify their behavior and others are like I don't know how I got it, here's everyone I was in contact with."

San Francisco's COVID cases are now more evenly distributed across the City and are impacting a higher percentage of White people than in previous surges. Moretta says she ends up talking to a lot people who have taken advantage of all the reopenings. "Doing all the things like having lunch with friends, going to the nail salon, or doing the gym."

Her advice, "what I tell my 24-year-old daughter is keep your contact list short."

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