CCDPH is celebrating Everyday Heroes of the COVID-19 response. Everyday Heroes are people living, working, or volunteering in suburban Cook County who are helping each other during these extremely difficult times. To see more Everyday Heroes, please see this page.
Hero of the Week
Deborah Boyd balances contact tracing for both COVID-19 and HIV clients
Deborah Boyd’s skills and experience with the health department’s HIV program prepared her well for her COVID-19 duties. As a Senior Epidemiologist, Deborah links newly diagnosed HIV patients to care and engages in harm and risk reduction with those clients. She also conducts partner notifications.
Now Deborah’s main role is contract tracing for COVID-19. Contact tracing helps slow the spread of communicable diseases from person to person. Contact tracing is something that health departments have done for a long time. Diseases such as measles, Eloba, sexually transmitted diseases, are also tracked by contact tracing.
How does case contacting for COVID-19 work? When a positive case of COVID-19 is reported to the state health department, Deborah tracks down the sick person. Sometimes she talks with their relatives if the person is too ill to talk or has died from the disease. She provides people who are sick with information about care, isolation, and the proper next steps. Deborah also asks who they have had close contact with. Deborah then tries to track down those contacts to notify them about the potential spread, ask about their symptoms, and discuss precautions.
Deborah attempts to contact 10-15 people per day on average, trying to gather as much information as possible to help them as well as the people they came in contact with. Along with almost 80 COVID-19 cases to investigate on any given day, Deborah also continues to her work with the STI/HIV program and the patients who need linkage to care and follow-up.
Deborah has been with Cook County Department of Public Health for 24 years and is happy to be a part of the team. There are definitely ups and downs to contract tracing though. “It’s inspiring to learn about a 90-year old female that recovered and walked out of the hospital,” says Deborah, “but you also hear heartbreaking stories of unintentional spread to vulnerable family members.”
It is also challenging to get in touch with people and try to speak to them. Once contact is made, some people initially are scared to talk because they might get themselves or others in trouble, but Deborah reassures them that will not happen. “I try and make people feel comfortable by asking them about their experience and how they are doing so they feel safe and are more willing to share,” says Deborah. She explains that when people understand that they are part of the solution and the questions are to help others, they try to be as helpful as possible and provide as much information as they can.
“Deborah is always thinking about her clients, first and foremost, and their communities,” says Demian Christiansen, Director of the Communicable Disease and Control Unit. Her supervisor, Tobi Velicia Johnson, agrees: “Deborah always thinks about her clients’ needs.
For Deborah, it’s all part of a day’s work. She finds inspiration in helping the community and working with community members.
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Updated June 22, 2020, 5:27 PM