Kathy Huynh is one of our Community Health Workers (CHWs) with the COVID-19 Equity Project (CEP). Most recently, Kathy graduated with her bachelor’s degree in public health (health administration) from Fresno State and found out about the CHW position at FIRM while she was interning at a different non-profit organization working with the Latinx community. As a CHW, Kathy believes that “our role is to advocate and be a voice for the client… Our job is to clarify and provide health education in a clear way for the client so they understand the importance of COVID-19 prevention and testing.” One of the misconceptions about COVID-19 that Kathy has come up against is that COVID-19 is “not that serious.”
“I think many people have the mindset that if it hasn’t killed anyone close they know, that it is not real. The virus is very new and we are still learning new things, and things change every day. I just think it’s not a risk people should be willing to take.” For example, Kathy has noticed that although many older folks haven’t been testing because they are probably quarantining at home, it’s the older folks that live in the same household with the working-age people that are putting their families’ lives at risk.
“For the most part, I do think elders care more about their health and are more cautious about the virus. Unfortunately, many of the healthy and working-age people do not take it as seriously. It’s half and half. We have people who do care and take extra precautions. There’s also the other half that thinks it’s not real and even if they do get exposed to COVID-19, it won’t kill them because of their age.” Another major part of Kathy’s role as a CHW is doing contact tracing.
Contact tracing is a process CHWs use to identify and notify people who were exposed to COVID-19 infected people by calling them on the phone, texting, and/or emailing. Kathy gets in touch with those who have tested positive for COVID-19. People who tested positive for COVID-19 may be asked about people they were with to who they may have exposed while they were contagious. Then CHWs let those potentially exposed people know that they’ve been in close contact with a person who tested positive for COVID-19, and explain what to do next to keep themselves and their loved ones safe. CHWs keep the name of the person who was tested positive for COVID-19 confidential in order to protect peoples’ identities. This also lessens concerns about shame and guilt because people’s names are not shared publicly. Public health departments have been using contact training for decades to fight the spread of infectious diseases (COVID19.ca.gov).
For Kathy, one of the most difficult parts of contact tracing is having a conversation on the phone. “As contact tracers, we do our best to assess an individual’s situation to get a holistic picture of that individual, which can be difficult. We try to establish trust within the communities we serve so that they know it’s safe to talk to us about COVID-19. Another challenging part about the job is the work can affect us mentally sometimes. We take the news and the stories we hear daily to our homes and sometimes dwell on the fact that someone is sick, or they had a family member pass away because of COVID-19, or they’re worried about how to make ends meet while trying to keep themselves healthy and their loved ones safe.”
However, Kathy remains determined to continue doing more effective outreach to her Vietnamese community. “I learned that they are a lot harder to get through for testing than I thought. I’ve learned some of the reasons behind that, but I still need to find better ways to persuade or encourage people to get tested. When we first started testing Monday through Friday, our testing sites were so busy that we could only do 150-200 tests a day depending on UCSF, so by 8:00 AM, we had to turn cars away that get in line. Vietnamese people are very concerned about their time and their job, and are unable to wait 3+ hours to get tested.” However now that FIRM is testing only on Mondays from 1:00 PM – 4:00 PM or until testing supplies last, clients only wait about an hour and more tests are available. So Kathy continues to strategize with other CHWs at FIRM in order to ensure that Vietnamese people get the critical information they need about COVID-19 testing and now vaccines.
FIRM provides free COVID-19 testing every Monday from 1:00 PM – 4:00 PM or until testing supplies last on a first-come, first-serve basis. If you have questions, please contact FIRM at (559) 487-1500 or visit www.fresno.ucsf.edu/cep/
Written by CEP Staff Jeremiah Sataraka