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Contact tracers facing problem where many don’t answer calls from unknown numbers

Posted at 2:05 PM, Oct 07, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-08 16:47:06-04

When we hear our phone go off and see an unknown number, we're not very likely to answer, but that habit is creating some issues for contact tracers.

People are hired to get in touch with anyone who's been in contact with someone who has been diagnosed with COVID-19.

With people not answering calls from contact tracers, controlling the coronavirus becomes more difficult.

But it doesn't mean contact tracers give up.

“In some cases, when contact tracers call someone, and that person is uncomfortable talking to them on the phone, in some counties, they will actually send someone to that person's home to conduct an in-person interview, if they're more comfortable doing that,” said Steve Waters, founder and CEO of CONTRACE.

Even when contact tracers do manage to get someone on the phone, it can be difficult to get information from them. This is a result of all the spam calls trying to scam people.

That's why contact tracers say it's all about establishing trust in that cold call.

“If you have a cultural understanding of the people that you are calling, that goes a long way to begin with,” said Waters. “I think you are more likely to be trusting of someone who has the demeanor and cultural understanding of your region, than somewhere across the country.”

CONTRACE was founded when coronavirus cases started popping up in the U.S. It helps public and private groups with contact tracing efforts.

The group encourages every state and local government to work with phone providers to help people know that calls are coming from contact tracers.

Ideally, the call would be identified as the local health department or contact tracing program.