Alumni Q&A: Anwar Sa’id (’18)

A graduate from Alcuin’s Class of 2018, Anwar Sa’id is a rising junior and double-major in political science and sociology at Texas Women’s University. Like many college students across the country, Sa’id’s classes were moved entirely online during the pandemic, but unlike most students, Sa’id decided to find a way to help those fighting COVID-19. Shortly before his fall semester in 2020 he became a contact tracer.

How did you become a contact tracer?
Initially it was after COVID started hitting hard and we were moved off campus. My mother was very open with the idea of me working from home, so she put me in touch with a variety of people and one of those contacts was from the health department. They mentioned they were looking for people to do contact tracing, so that’s when I was first introduced to it. Initially I was not certain how I would feel going about it, but definitely over time I grew to like it much more as I understood how we were helping people throughout the whole process.
What does a contact tracer do?
If anybody has a positive test, that information gets sent over, we get that information in our system, then we run through a script with them filled with questions on their current circumstances. Next we give them information about how to make sure they are being as safe as possible. In addition to that, there is the whole contact tracing portion where you will investigate and obtain information about who those people may have potentially had contact with. We gathered that information so we can find out if there are any other exposures from that one person.

There are contact investigators and there are contact tracers. The contact investigator would do both tracing and investigating, whereas the contact tracer only calls people who were exposed by another individual. The investigator would call people who we know had positive tests for certain, then if they had any exposures we would then turn those into other cases that we would give to CTs to do.
How successful has this process been in isolating and identifying when/where someone got infected?
Most of this process is voluntarily-based, so if an individual doesn’t want to provide information, which does happen quite often, they might say they don’t feel comfortable discussing who they were around. It’s very dependent on whether or not people are willing to provide that information. For the most part, if you approach people with a positive manner, most people will agree to provide you with the information you need.
That information then gets sent over to the CDC and they handle it from their end. But I think for the most part it has been quite effective, especially in finding those individuals who might not have known they needed to test.
Are you in a position to tell people to quarantine?
We recommend quarantine, but we don’t enforce quarantining. Overall, we do recommend quarantining up to a 14 day period from their last COVID exposure or the last time they experienced symptoms.
What’s the largest caseload you had?
By cases here, we mean people who have actually done the assessments. The most number of cases I’ve had in one day was somewhere between 80-100 people.
Talk about some of the lessons you’ve learned in this role.
The number one thing I’ve learned is how to communicate with people under these circumstances. It’s important to remain calm and understand that this is a scary situation for both me and them, because to them I’m a stranger telling them about the symptoms they might experience and the dangers of those symptoms.
Overall, I think its been very important for me to better understand how to communicate with people, as well as empathizing with them, especially when it comes to things of this nature.
Given all that, how tough is it to get people to trust you quickly?
We would tell them that if you’re feeling a little bit uncomfortable, that’s absolutely ok. We give them a way to verify that we are who we are so we give them a website they can go to that and verify it has the same number we call them with, so they can call us back when they’re feeling up to it and we can go from there.
How did you juggle your job AND your course work at TWU?
It was rather difficult I’d say for the initial few months that I was doing it because I wasn’t used to working full time and being a student full-time. I’d be working from 7am to 8pm, then I’d have homework to do on certain days. That’s part of the reason that I had to pull back this semester. I wanted to focus all on school work.
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