State service provides mental health support for contact tracers

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — Contact tracers play a vital role in stopping the spread of COVID-19. It is their job to connect with people who have tested positive for the virus, and trace to whom they’ve had close contact recently.

“Gaining the trust of others is really what this is all about because if I don’t have the trust, we can’t stop the spread,” Contact tracer Brooke Blakemore said.

Blakemore and Madison Eisenberg are two of about 200 tracers with IUPUI’s Fairbanks School of Public Health. They both started this service in November.

Eisenberg works with families whose children who test positive are six years old or younger.

“So, not only just answering, or having to answer the questions that complete our interviews with them, but also how do you provide empathy and provide support for them,” Eisenberg said of other aspects of her role.

Blakemore often works with our homeless neighbors. She explains the role of contact tracers goes beyond COVID-19. She enjoys connecting those she serves to the resources they need outside of battling the virus.

There are certainly tough days on the frontlines. Shandy Dearth, Director of Undergraduate Epidemiology Program at Fairbanks School of Public Health, said tracers have had to call 911 six or seven times.

“We’ve had people who they had been released from the hospital after COVID, they had been improving, but then they get home and they start to deteriorate again,” Dearth explained.

Now, as part of the state’s FEMA funded Crisis Counseling Program, mental health experts are providing some support via Zoom calls for the tracers.

“Where they talk about taking care of yourself, walking away when needed, taking a break,” Dearth explained.

Despite the difficult days, the tracers are proud to serve their community. Some have sadly lost a loved one to the virus.

“They took this job specifically because they wanted to put their grief into action,” Dearth said. “So, I think it’s important to note that this has been kind of a healing job for some people as well.”

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