Contact Tracing with Maryama Diaw, MS '12

Published 07/10/2020 in Alumni Features
Written 07/10/2020

Maryama Diaw, a graduate of Dartmouth and M.P.H. student at Columbia, takes us through her work as a contact tracer in Harlem.

For about a month now, I’ve had the privilege of being a part of a program that’s essential to keeping New York safe as we continue to understand how to live with COVID-19. As a contact tracer working with New York City’s COVID-19 Test and Trace Corps, I’ve been able to put my public health skills to action during one of the most uncertain times of our lives.

I’m currently a rising second year Master's of Public Health (M.P.H.) student, and I vividly remember sitting in class on one gray January day and discussing the appearance of a new virus and what it could mean for the world. Fast forward a few months later with many quarantined weeks under my belt, there’s now so much more that we know about COVID-19 and so much that we’ve yet to fully understand. One thing that I do know for certain is that COVID-19 has affected the parts of NYC that I fondly call home in disparate ways when compared to wealthier and White neighborhoods. East Harlem, the vibrant neighborhood that I call home, was one of the many predominantly Black and Latinx neighborhoods that had some of the highest case counts in the city. April was a scary month to say the very least. As a student, I felt that I knew enough to understand that the best way to end an infectious disease outbreak is to stop transmission. And yet, I watched helplessly as our nation’s leaders continued to turn their backs on the proven science that’s meant to save lives.

As a contact tracer I have the chance to speak with those who are confirmed COVID-19 cases and to any contacts who may have also been exposed to the virus. As a Black woman from the same communities that I’m calling, I understand the challenges that many face when asked to isolate or quarantine. I understand that social distancing is a privilege not afforded to many – especially considering that almost 75% of NYC’s essential workforce are people of color.

I’ve loved being able to connect cases and contacts to services ranging from mental health services to ease the toll of isolation, to providing information on how to obtain free AC’s to make staying home just a little bit easier. It’s extremely rewarding to be able to mix my love for my community and my love for public health together during such a critical moment in our world’s history. As I watch NYC enter the suppression stage of this pandemic, I know that the work of frontline workers throughout the city, as well as the collective efforts of our communities to commit to safe practices, will make all of the difference. 

If there’s anything that I’ll take away from this moment in time, it's the understanding that the United States must confront its past and present structures of inequality that continue to perpetuate disparities in the health and wealth of its citizenry, and that the only way forward is to commit to creating new, anti-racist ways of being. It's my hope the rest of the country can follow New York's lead in suppressing the virus and that we can all make the commitments to re-shaping our world in a more egalitarian light, but in the meantime, we'll be testing and tracing until we're in the all-clear.


See video of Maryama and other contact tracers below, and read more about their work here.