What does it take to track down people who may have been exposed to the coronavirus?

Contact tracers were making hundreds of calls each day at the height of COVID-19 pandemic in Orange County

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – Contact tracers say at the height of the coronavirus pandemic in Orange County, they were making hundreds of calls each day tracking down people who may have been exposed.

"Contact tracing is the process of finding out who’s been exposed to a positive case," said Charles Letizia, an epidemiologist with the Florida Department of Health, Orange County.

Letizia said each person who tested positive for the coronavirus had an average of five close contacts with people where they could have spread it.

He said he and his team work hard to contact those people to head off the spread.

“We get to know their story. Everyone has a story,” he said.

Letizia said the demand for making those calls became too great for the epidemiology staff to handle on their own, so the FDOH in Orange County moved and trained staff from the nutrition and sexually transmitted disease departments to contact tracing.

He said most people they contacted were willing to help.

"They don’t want their loved ones, their family members, their friends and coworkers to contract this virus," he said. "So, they’re looking to offer whatever help they can in stopping the chain of transmission."

Most people who came in close contact with a person who tested positive for COVID-19 were told to get tested for the virus and to quarantine for 14 days.

He said only a few people did not want to cooperate.

"Occasionally, when we do run into roadblocks where people are not cooperative," he said. "In those cases, we're able to seek information from other sources. It might be their employers or their contacts or other sources of information."

Letizia said as the number of cases has gone down, FDOH in Orange County has started moving employees back to their normal departments, but they're ready to ramp up again if there is an uptick in the numbers.

“Having the opportunity to protect the public health is really what makes this job worth it,” he said.

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