Faces of the Pandemic: Despite lies, COVID-19 contact tracer finds job fulfilling
Pitkin County’s lead in contact tracing has personally dealt with more than a third of the positive cases in the area
People lie to Sam Rose a lot.
It’s been the one of the main frustrations of his job as Pitkin County Public Health’s lead COVID-19 contact tracer and disease investigator over the past six months.
“There’s a lot of dishonesty,” Rose said last week. “I have no way of proving it, but if it’s not total dishonesty, then they’re telling a half-truth, which feels like a whole lie when you’re trying to get to the bottom of something.”
Rose and his crew of six other contact tracers must not only interview everyone a person who tests positive for the virus has come into contact with, but must check-in with people in quarantine and isolation to see if they’re complying.
“It’s a very tough place to do contact tracing,” he said. “There’s a lot of comings and goings in this county.”
But despite that drawback, the job is fulfilling because he helps the community move more safely through the pandemic.
“I was just asking myself how much worse town would be if we weren’t here,” Rose said. “You know if you didn’t call certain people (and put them in) quarantine, everyone would have it.”
A year-end series by The Aspen Times taking a look at the people behind the masks who helped our community get through 2020. To read more profiles, go to aspentimes.com/faces-of-the-pandemic.
Rose, 27, started as Pitkin County’s first full-time contact tracer July 6 and had personally dealt with 420 of the county’s 1,100-plus positive cases as of last week. He also volunteers at the Aspen Fire Department and Response, which provides help for victims of sexual assault and domestic violence in the Roaring Fork Valley, and said the job of contact tracing provides similar benefits to the community.
“I do enjoy talking to people and helping others,” he said.
Often tracking positive cases involves an employee of a hotel, restaurant or other local business who was in contact with someone who tested positive but hadn’t yet showed signs of the disease, Rose said.
When he or one of the county’s other contact tracers quarantines that person and they later test positive, he said he feels satisfaction that he’s helping protect residents and businesses by limiting spread of the virus.
And while it might seem like Rose and his team would be the front-line targets for people’s COVID anger, that hasn’t been the case for the most part.
“Very, very few people get mad at me,” Rose said. “You would think it’s thankless, but people are really thankful.”
He said he wants to continue as a contact tracer through the end of the pandemic, though with cases continuing to grow it’s not yet clear when that will be.
“I don’t want to sound too dire, but I want to say that (COVID-19) has found itself into every nook and cranny here in Pitkin County,” Rose said. “Right now, I feel like Pitkin County can’t catch a break.”
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As much as anyone else, Dr. Greg Balko is tired of the pandemic. The emergency medicine physician and other health care workers on the front lines in Aspen are experiencing the same pandemic fatigue that has wearied many in the face of COVID-19.