BALTIMORE, Jan. 22, 2021 /PRNewswire/ -- When Denisha Mann learned about an opportunity to help protect her community during the pandemic, the lifelong Baltimorean stepped out of her comfort zone and up to the task of contact tracing, despite having no previous professional experience in medicine or public health.
She's among 150-plus city residents who, having lost employment during the pandemic, now comprise the Baltimore Health Corps (BHC), a jobs/health initiative spearheaded by local and national partners from government and philanthropic organizations.
Jhpiego, a global health nonprofit and Johns Hopkins University affiliate, heads up the training of contact tracers for this first-of-its kind, Baltimore-based pilot project. Having worked around the world for decades to help stop the spread of HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and other infectious diseases, Jhpiego was enlisted by the Baltimore Health Department to lend its expertise in training non-health-professionals who are embedded in the communities they serve.
Contact tracing works. But only when people answer the call, stay on the phone and comply with the guidance and instructions offered. A fundamental strategy of the BHC is that contact tracers be perceived as recognizable neighbors—as friends—by the people they call.
With the benefit of Jhpiego's training, Mann—a self-described jane-of-all trades who worked as a cook, caterer and security guard—now spends her days in the safety and privacy of her Baltimore rowhome, competently and confidently engaging individuals exposed to COVID-19 to discuss stopping its spread.
Contact tracers offer evidence-based information about the virus as well as assuage the concerns of those needing to isolate or quarantine and refer them to needed services. Patience, confidentiality and respect are key qualities for contact tracers, says Olivia Brann, a Baltimore artist. "It makes the job easier," she adds, "knowing that these are the people in my city, my home."
Brann, Mann and their coworkers earn a steady paycheck while honing new skills meant to lead to fulltime work in other capacities once the pandemic is under control. They also get career and legal guidance and the city's assurance that the temporary positions can evolve into future careers.
Lessons learned from the BHC initiative will be published and shared with other municipalities. Contact tracing data collected during this effort will be regionally available to help track the spread of COVID-19 in Baltimore and beyond.