Contact tracing quickly became a central part of the state, and the country’s, coronavirus response.
But for it to work, a member of the Department of Health’s contact tracing team has to be able to reach you on the phone and get answers to some rather personal questions.
So, how often are North Dakotans actually cooperating? And, what happens if they don’t?
The state of North Dakota has about 200 people that spend their days on the phone, calling people who have just tested positive for the coronavirus.
When a contact tracer calls you, they have two goals:
1: To learn as much about your case as possible and to see how you might be doing.
2: To find out who you’ve come into contact with recently in order to trace the spread.
“And in that interview, they have to be able to talk about how that infected individual needs to isolate and why it’s important for them to isolate and have that conversation, and then have conversations with those contacts that have been identified in that interview,” added Kirby Kruger, the Chief of the North Dakota Department of Health’s Division of Disease Control.
So, do North Dakotans trust contact tracers?
“I guess, just kind of trust the process, and trust that whoever’s in charge is, I mean, going about it the right way,” shared Bismarck resident Landon Smith.
“Uh, no,” contradicted Wendy Buck, also from Bismarck.
“I just think that we can make our decisions for ourselves for one thing. And we’re all responsible adults. We can figure out if we’ve been in contact and take the right measures ourselves,” she explained.
We polled passersby, asking, “Would you be willing to answer questions about your health and give out names of people you would’ve come into contact with?”
“Yup. Yes, I would,” responded Ed Kubis, who lives just outside of the Capital City.
Buck added, “No, I probably wouldn’t be comfortable with that.”
Smith said, “Yeah, I think I would…just for the benefit of everybody.”
“People who are infected are generally a little more cooperative,” Kruger added.
He says as the pandemic drags on, people have become increasingly hesitant to speak with tracers.
“People are starting to burn out a little bit. They want to get back to normal. People don’t want to share names because they know that if they share a name, that individual may not be able to go to work. And if they can’t go to work, they’re not going to bring home a paycheck. They feel like they’re protecting somebody. And really, what we have to get at is: what’s best for the community as a whole?” Kruger elaborated.
“I mean, it’s also new for everybody. I mean in our lifetime, I guess, we’ve never really had to deal with this,” Smith explained.
Kruger assured us calls are not recorded and all responses are confidential. He added, when tracers call close contacts, they won’t reveal the name of the person that got the positive test result, even if you ask who it was.
“There’s nothing convenient about being infected with COVID-19. There’s nothing convenient about being a contact to someone who’s got COVID-19,” Kruger empathized. “We have to be understanding on our end, but at the end of the day, we have to also try to get individuals to understand why it’s important to comply.”
If people aren’t cooperative or answering the phone, Kruger says tracers are persistent in following up again with you, or with someone else in a household.
Ultimately, it’s up to each person how much information they’re willing to share, and without it, it’s practically impossible to track the spread of the coronavirus in North Dakota.