The United States of America is one of the countries to have suffered the most from the coronavirus, with more than 18.5 million cases and about 330,000 deaths. Similarly, New Jersey has been one of the most affected states with the coronavirus in the United States, with close to 500,000 cases. That’s a lot of zeros. A lot of terrible zeros. 

Unsurprisingly, several steps have been taken to try to limit the cases and deaths in the state and country in general. One of these steps is contact tracing. 

Contact tracing is a technique used by health officials to limit the spread of an infectious disease. You must know by now that the coronavirus is a pretty infectious disease. As such, contact tracing is one of the ways to combat it. 

As the name suggests, contact tracing involves tracing the people an infected person has been in contact with. This is one of the most important steps to controlling infectious diseases. With poor contact tracing, high-risk people will go about and keep infecting others, and before you know it, we have hundreds of thousands of cases. Hundreds of thousands of cases? Sounds familiar? Of course! This is the mess we find ourselves in many states in the US, including New Jersey. 

Considering all of these, can we attribute the huge number of cases to poor contact tracing in NJ? I’ll answer this in a moment. In New Jersey, about 78% of people reached out to by contact tracers don’t cooperate. There’s your answer!

It isn’t that the officials are poorly trained; they are. The people just don’t cooperate. There is a general skepticism that comes with giving out information to the government, I know. However, in the middle of a pandemic that has seen about 330,000 people dead, now is not the time to be uncooperative. 

Some people are uncomfortable talking with government officials; this, I understand. What I don’t get is infected people not wanting to give out the details of those they have been around. This is literally to help those people. And the officials even promise to keep all the information they get confidential. So, what is the problem, New Jersey?! 

Aside from being uncomfortable talking with government officials, some people are ashamed of having the coronavirus. This may be because of the stigma many have attached to it. Therefore, these people hang up on contact tracers when it comes to giving information about the people they have been in contact with. Also, many aren’t properly educated on the role of contact tracers and may think they are scammers. 

If you feel disappointed by the lack of cooperation, wait until you find out how the government and health officials that have invested tons of money, effort, and time into fighting the virus feel. Officials are willing to help, but the people don’t seem to be. I mean the very people the officials are trying to protect. This isn’t the trend in many other states. States like New York and Massachusetts have had a better time in their contact tracing. 

It’s not all down to the public, though. There are also flaws with the contact tracing system that could be affecting the success of the contact tracing. One of these flaws is the low number of in-person tracers. States that record successes on the contact tracing front usually have a relatively high number of in-person contact tracers. Some people are more comfortable conversing with someone they can see and recognize to be with the CDC than officials over a phone. And some people don’t even have phones at all. This is not to say in-person contact tracers don’t get the door slammed in their faces, but having more of them increases the chances of finding more people willing to cooperate. This is one of the areas where NJ falters.

Another area where the NJ contact tracing system could be better is the diversity of their contact tracers. New York has about 4,000 contact tracers. This isn’t too much higher than New Jersey’s, which is around 3500. However, what makes New York’s contact tracers special is their diversity. Forty languages are represented among New York’s contact tracers, including Yiddish and Russian. America has many minority groups and immigrants. Reaching out to all of these groups will be difficult if there are communication barriers.

Many states in the country have made significant changes to their contact tracing strategy. States are coming up with new and modified versions of their contact tracing system to increase cooperation. One of such strategies involves contacting only vulnerable individuals. Another is to prioritize people in regions where there are outbreaks. 

What we need to understand as a country is that this battle against covid-19 is not an individual one. We cannot afford to be selfish. That you can beat the coronavirus or are low-risk doesn’t mean you shouldn’t cooperate with contact tracers. Some more vulnerable people don’t have the same luxury. And the more cases, the higher the risk to these people’s health.

Stay safe. 



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