North Carolina COVID-19 contact tracer says it's sometimes a challenge just getting people to pick up his calls

DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- Isaias Garcia doesn't know people he's talked to in the last couple of months.

He feels he's making a difference though in the fight against COVID-19.

He's a bilingual contact tracer in Durham County.

"I've had family members who have had COVID and they didn't know certain resources were available to them," he said.

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There are 1,500 full time and part-time staff supporting contact tracing efforts, including 951 Community Care of North Carolina tracers.

Garcia said they still have issues with people picking up their calls. In the past month, the Department of Health and Human Services said 63 percent of people contacted by tracers responded or were helpful in some way.

There were more problems when they started tracing because calls like Garcia's were coming up as spam.

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He said the phone companies have fixed that, but there are still barriers to entry.

"We still call people and even if they see the NC contact tracing ID, they're still wary about whether or not they should share information," Garcia said. "It's a big challenge just getting them on the phone to begin with."

Garcia calls people who have been in direct contact with the novel coronavirus. He said he tries to provide them with resources and information and mostly checks in to see what their symptoms are like.

He has a mix of Spanish and English speakers but said his Spanish helps him reach some people in a different way.

"I've had cases where from the moment they hear any English, they'll switch it over to someone else," he said.

CCNC said it is working with 76 health departments across the state. Of those they've hired, they said half or so have been bilingual, which is crucial considering the higher prevalence of the virus in the Latino community.

"The only thing I wish would happen is that we get the word out there," Garcia said. "A lot of people pick up the phone and don't know what contact tracing is. If they were to know more about what we do, and how we do it, that would be great."

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