Partnering with CBOs to Strengthen Their Capacity to Respond to COVID


Tracing Health


contact tracer wearing a headset

PHI’s Tracing Health helped to strengthen the capacity of community-based organizations to respond to COVID-19 in their communities by building their public health leadership skills and matching them with Community Care Specialists who had experience in addressing COVID.

53% of specialists were bilingual

27% of specialists were fluent in 3+ languages

11 public health jurisdictions were supported

In 2022, the Public Health Institute’s Tracing Health program received funding from the CDC Foundation, allowing the program to build on existing COVID response efforts and focus on strengthening the capacity of community-based organizations (CBOs) to respond to COVID in three states and 11 public health jurisdictions. Under Tracing Health’s “Strengthening Capacity of CBOs for COVID-19 Response” project, 32 Community Care Specialists were hired and worked closely with CBOs and public health partners to support case investigation, outbreak tracking, exposure events, vaccine outreach, and COVID-19 emergency rental assistance.

Tracing Health launched during the beginning of the COVID pandemic and supported local health jurisdictions, school districts, community health centers and other partners by rapidly deploying and sustaining COVID-19 response services such as case investigation and contact tracing, vaccine support services, resource coordination and epidemiology. This new funding allowed for Tracing Health to strengthen the capacity of CBOs to continue to respond to COVID-19 in their communities.

headshot of Eden
Ensuring that staff looked like and were from the same communities they served was critical and helped to foster trust in their communities and deepened COVID response efforts. Eden Lopez

Deputy Director, Tracing Health

This was also an important approach to building a diverse public health workforce that is prepared and ready to respond during future public health crises. Since 2020, the beginning of the COVID pandemic, Tracing Health hired over 650 staff as contact tracers and for other COVID recovery efforts. Highly trained employees counseled contacts and connected them to community resources. Many spoke two or more languages and represented multiple cultures.

Tracing Health’s innovative approach to identifying and deploying existing COVID response staff as Community Care Specialists provided a positive experience for the specialists and CBOs. The Community Care Specialists also strengthened their leadership skills in relevant local approaches to COVID-19 response and had job security. Supervisors served as local experts on-site where Community Care Specialists were deployed and Community Care Specialists also had a “supervisor of record” who supported them through the course of the project.

Impacts included:

  • 53% of the Community Care Specialists were bilingual
  • 27% of the Community Care Specialists were fluent in 3 or more languages
  • 20% of the Community Care Specialists only spoke English
  • Specialists spoke Spanish, Tagalog, Pashto, Arabic, Russian, Ukrainian, Italian, French, Portuguese, and English.
  • Staff supported COVID-19 response activities through case investigation, outbreak tracking, exposure events, vaccine outreach, and COVID-19 emergency rental assistance in three states and eleven jurisdictions:
    • California: Sierra, Contra Costa, Humboldt, Tehama, El Dorado, San Joaquin, Imperial, and Butte
    • Oregon: Oregon Health Authority, Washington County
    • Washington: Spokane Regional Health District

For more information visit the Tracing Health website.

Tracing Health launched in the spring of 2020 as a COVID-19 response initiative and strategic partnership program of the Public Health Institute and the Oregon Public Health Institute.  Tracing Health is committed to culturally centered staffing to combat the spread of COVID-19, building a workforce that is more representative of the future of public health.

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