Tracking COVID-19: A behind the scenes look into Metro Public Health contact tracing

Posted at 9:10 PM, Jun 23, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-23 22:11:20-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — It’s one of the most critical jobs outside of hospitals in the fight against COVID-19. Contact tracers help investigate more than 7,000 cases of COVID-19 transmission.

You won’t see a giant map with tiny red pins for each case, but in their small room within Lentz Public Health Center, each screen is tracking that type of data.

Once someone tests positive for COVID-19, this team coordinates with any one of their now 120 contact tracers working from home. More than 100 of these contact tracers accepted the positions in just the past few weeks, as demand and the number of cases continued to rise.

“In terms of managing all of that, it takes a small army to manage the larger investigative army that you have. So we have to be very efficient,” said Leslie Waller, an epidemiologist and disease investigator with Metro Public Health.

Waller is one of the few working from in the Lentz building as a disease investigator. A managerial position that’s been around for decades, but with the urgency behind COVID-19, she too makes the occasional calls to anyone potentially exposed to the virus.

“We have to do this really fast. When you have 100 plus cases coming in every day, obviously time is of the essence,” said Waller.

If you do get the call, text or letter in the mail saying you may have been exposed, contact tracers explain that you must begin quarantine for 14 days from the last time they believe you made contact with the infected.

They won’t say who it is, because of confidentiality laws, but you’ll likely get the call if you were within six feet of this person for more than 10 minutes.

Waller says some take it well, but others have a hard time with the idea of having to quarantine for days on end.

“Some people are very upset. So we try to work with them and get them any resources we can if that’s going to be a barrier,” said Waller.

If you’re called and still have questions, Waller says they welcome people to reach out to their contact tracers for clarity.