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Health dept. team helps keep families at home

If you had to quarantine, running errands likely got harder.
Published: Jan. 8, 2021 at 11:53 PM CST
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - If COVID-19 forced you to quarantine, running errands probably got a whole lot harder.

As the pandemic unfolded, the Douglas County Health Department’s contact tracers tracked exposures and told people to isolate. Some of those families needed help getting food or other services, and that responsibility fell on contact tracers. In June, the health department’s Stephen Jackson gathered a team dedicated to helping people stay in isolation.

The health department’s Health Determinant Navigation Program wants to help keep quarantined people at home by connecting them with social services that partner with the department.

“The concept for a navigation program came out of the need to relieve some of the burden from the contact tracers,” Stephen Jackson said, who’s the supervisor for health promotion at the health department.

Grocery runs, rental assistance, and mental health issues were hardly in the contact tracer’s job description. When they contact someone possibly exposed to COVID-19, contact tracers will determine if a family or individual is eligible for this kind of assistance.

For those who had trouble getting food, the department connected people to the non-profit Whispering Roots.

“At the beginning of the pandemic, we were unable to do our normal programming, which is nutrition education, culinary education, agriculture—we had to shut down because we couldn’t go into our schools,” project manager Anna Curry said.

Whispering roots had a van and enough people to do the job: deliver food to homes of people in isolation. Some food is free of cost, thanks to a USDA program.

“[Families are] really getting a well-balanced delivery to hopefully last them the whole two weeks while they’re in quarantine,” Curry said.

Whispering Roots delivered to nearly 150 families through the navigation program last year. Curry says they’re blowing past that mark in 2021, sending up to 60 boxes per week—as the health department aims to contain the virus.

“We’ve been going strong because the numbers have been pretty high ever since,” Jackson said.

If you’re contacted by health department contact tracers, they will ask if your family needs food, rent, healthcare, or other assistance.

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