Santa Clara County to hire 50 contact tracers from hardest-hit communities
A nurse administers COVID-19 tests at the San Jose Police Activities League Stadium. File photo by Luke Johnson.

Recognizing COVID-19 takes a disproportionate toll on Latinx and Black communities in the South Bay, Santa Clara County is set to hire 50 contact tracers with African ancestry or fluency in Spanish.

Contact tracing is a public health practice to trace back the root of an infection and deduct who infected whom, according to the nonprofit health organization the Mayo Clinic.

The county already has 1,000 contact tracers, 13% of whom speak Spanish and 2% of whom speak Vietnamese.

County data has shown a high rate of positive COVID-19 tests from the East Side, South San Jose and Gilroy.

Residents in the most impacted communities usually have the highest risk of being infected because of where they work, according to Dr. Sarah Rudman, Santa Clara County’s director of contact tracing.

“These folks in service professions that all of the rest of us are relying on are themselves at a greater risk of getting exposed in their work day, and therefore, bringing something home to expose their family and household,” Rudman said.

Rudman said many transmissions that happen at the workplace can be exacerbated at overcrowded homes where multiple families live together.

Without trust in the health department, however, contact tracing efforts may go astray, Rudman said.

“A final barrier, I would say, is the ability to connect with people and make sure that that the contact tracing phone call goes through and all of the information is exchanged as needed to get somebody the care that they need,” Rudman said. “We know that communities of color may, for good reason, be less trusting of government phone calls or harder to reach while they’re working and may have additional linguistic barriers.”

In the East Side, the Sí Se Puede Collective is working with the county to build that trust by recruiting local residents to be a part of the response team.

SOMOS Mayfair, Mujeres Empresario Tomando Acción, Veggielution, Amigos de Guadalupe, Grail Family Services and the Mexican Heritage Plaza School of Arts and Culture make up the Sí Se Puede Collective.

Emily Schwing, Veggielution’s marketing and impact manager, is helping organize the outreach and says once contact tracers are on the ground, they should be working with the collective.

“The idea would be that we bring a contact tracer into the collective as kind of like a collective contact tracer who we would then work with,” Schwing said. “Ideally this person would be one of our promotoras who’s already been trained and already been in the community, working with people and giving out information. So it’s not like we’re bringing in someone just from the county, but it’s an individual from the community.”

This would build upon the collective’s promotora outreach model, in which East Side residents within the collective distribute information on COVID-19 and testing throughout their community.

“They’re going out into the community to be able to give those resources,” Schwing said. “So you’re not getting a call from someone from a government agency trying to tell you this information but you’re getting a call from someone you may know who lives down the street from you or that you see at your child’s preschool. So, it’s more of a trusted individual in the community.”

Schwing said with the collective’s knowledge of the East Side, COVID-19 prevention and testing plans are much more effective. In particular, opening a testing center at the Mexican Heritage Plaza’s School of Arts and Culture boosted accessibility for East Side residents.

There was a testing site at PAL stadium in East San Jose, but Schwing said it was not well attended.

“It was very difficult to navigate from a signup perspective. You had to go online. If you didn’t have a Google email it made it really difficult for you to actually register,” she added.

The county partnered with the Sí Se Puede Collective after community members said the county needs to better represent the areas hit hardest by the virus, Rudman noted.

“While we are already doing an extensive amount of contact tracing everywhere, including in these communities, the way to have the most impact would be to make sure that the communities themselves are really well represented in the workforce,” she said.

The county has yet to complete the hiring process for the new contact tracers as they finalize agreements with community organizations, Rudman said.

Contact Mauricio La Plante at [email protected] or follow @mslaplantenews on Twitter.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.